On October 14, 2011, The Norris Group returned with its award-winning event I Survived Real Estate. An expert line-up of industry specialists joined Bruce Norris to discuss current industry regulation, head-scratching legislation, and the opportunities emerging for savvy real estate professionals. 100% of the proceeds support the Orange County Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. This event would not have been possible without the generous help of the following platinum partners: ForeclosureRadar and Sean O’Toole, Housing Wire, the San Diego Creative Real Estate Investors Association and President Bill Tan, Investors Workshops with President Shawn Watkins and Angel Bronsgeest, Invest Club for Women and Iris Veneracion and Bobbie Alexander, San Jose Real Estate Investors Association and Geraldine Berry, Real Wealth Networks, Frye Wyles, MVT Productions, and White House Catering. The event video can be found on isurvived2011.com.
Bruce continued his discussion with the panel on loans and the market. An $8,000 rebate was equivalent to a nothing-down loan most of the time on prices. It is not known how well this loan portfolio performed, but it would be interesting to know since it is in essence a nothing-down program without spending the $8 grand. It was pointed out to most of the bankers who had made loans under this program and held it in portfolio that the loan-to-value ratio they believed they had at the time they made the loan was higher after prices receded again, so they had more risk in their portfolio than they thought they did. Bruce and Doug still think it will come out very well. We’re close to the bottom, but we have probably already created a payment that was less than rent. Doug bought a house in Florida last September since they were on sale.
Eric Janszen wrote a book called The Post-Catastrophe Economy, and one of the main things Bruce underlined in the book stated, “The United States will rebuild on its ethics of hard work, education, fairness and honesty, its culture of entrepreneurial vs. risk-taking, of competition of savings and of avoidance of debts, it core competencies in technology development and original invention, its strong institution of property rights and rule of law.” It was Eric’s hope that we would have spent the last two years going forward and hopefully building infrastructure to a new set of tools, transportation, energy, communication, and infrastructure that you call Techi. However, this was not something we did. The policy we took instead was characterized by Eric as “print and pray.” There was no consorted effort or consensus on what to do beyond the emergency measures that were taken to halt the deflationary process in the recession. This is why Bruce asked the question about fiscal policy because a long-term fiscal policy would not be short-term relief or pleasing. If we really did something long-term, the results would be out there a ways. If we approached it as a return on investment and followed the idea that there is certain infrastructure that if you invest in it in a country, it increases your capacity for economic growth and not as an expense but a multiplier effect, then you would have to think very carefully about how you would do that. This takes some planning and execution. In order to pull this off, you have to have enough of a consensus within government to not get into a dysfunctional argument about whether it’s going to result in the short-term and increase in deficits.
As Doug mentioned, the American public was pretty aghast at the quality of the debate that was going on about the debt ceiling. It was not a particular constructive discussion, so most Americans are frustrated by this. There is a document that has a joint effort from Republicans and Democrats regarding the budget deficit and reducing it. You have a few people from each side pour their hearts into a year or two’s worth of work and come to a legitimate conclusion, so Bruce wondered how each of the parties have reacted to the document, whether they knew it was not everything they wanted but had to sacrifice; or did they get beaten from both sides. It’s very difficult to put anything forward since all their discussions are so ideologically charged. It’s a simple constructive plan based on a simple factual argument. You very quickly obtain a dialogue that devolves into some argument about whether we are going bankrupt tomorrow, which is not going to happen. Doug agreed with this; he thought the roots were there for a good discussion. If you take Paul Ryan’s plan and the president’s deficit commission plan, the two of those elements together could lead to a very constructive debate about how to make some long-term adjustments. You’re not going to fix it in two years; it’s something that is going to take some time. Washington did not engage with those elements as prep-starting reference points.
Eric mentioned an output gap in his book. The concept of an output gap is every year the Congressional budget office puts out what they project is what the growth rate of the economy would be if everybody who wanted to have a job had a job. All the producers and consumers are efficient actors in the market. What happens is in a recession you are operating below a theoretical growth rate, so the difference between your theoretical growth rate and where you actually are is the output gap. It’s really a measure of unemployment. In the 1970s, the policy was to try to close the upper gap by any means necessary, which is the wrong approach as we will end up with a lot of inflation. The challenge is that usual reflation measures, monetary policy, and fiscal policy for the last 30 years has been very effective at closing output gaps quickly after recessions. The problem is if we do not close the output gap before the next recession, we would have a mid-gap recession. This is another recession that opens the gap further with what was left over from the previous recession. We have not had this since 1938. Mid-gap recessions cause very significant add-on problems. It’s feasible that we could have one of these, but as Doug said it would probably be caused by an external event, probably in Europe.
The next ten years of investing will not be like the last ten. In 2001 a portfolio was created that was composed of treasury bonds and gold, which outperformed everything if you did not do anything with it. It beat the S&P, both in terms of volatility, draw-down, and batting average, everything you could think of. This is not good. Hopefully over the next ten years we get back on track where we are growing the economy by growing it in a more organic fashion, not to refinance. One of Eric’s investments happens to be connected to apartments, and one particular investment is in a company that sells into B markets of multifamily residential real estate. The theory behind it was the cost of capital was going to remain low, but the rents were going to start to rise. Cap rates were going to improve, and they were going to be profitable investments.
Eric also talks about in his book the concept of having public/private partnerships create an infrastructure. We have not done that much in this country to create this type of infrastructure successfully. Back in the early days a lot of our highways were built with European money funding private enterprises to build our highways. Most people forget that, but we took the public route after World War II, and our infrastructures were rebuilt through public finance. In Europe when they did not have any money, they used public and private partnerships to build infrastructure roads, highways, and bridges. Typically that model is adopted in times when governments are very constrained fiscally. It becomes more efficient to combine private enterprise and the risk management of government to combine together to build new infrastructure.
One of the things Eric warns about in his book is the right and wrong ways to do public and private partnerships. The wrong way is getting public money and giving it to your buddies to go build things. The right way to do it is to create a real competitive market where the partnerships actually have to compete with each other and perform to metrics, and they can’t get another job unless the last one worked really well. One of the hardest things is that there seems to be a lack of credibility to say the least when you want to tax people more or you want to have partnerships, and then you find out that the basis for that partnership was other than for a good reason. You get very suspicious about someone writing the next check or asking you to contribute more. Bruce did not understand how we get away from that. It’s no secret that most Americans are frustrated with American finance, and that is one of the first things we have to fix in this country.
In the past, there were common reasons for foreclosures. Sean O’Toole started investing in foreclosures in 2002, and one of the things he had the hardest time with was none of them made any sense. Everything had equity, so all of the folks could sell. Sean really struggled with this, especially as a son of a logic professor. It finally dawned on him, with the help of his business partner, that it was the five D’s: drugs, debt, disease, divorce, and denial. When you knocked on people’s doors, it was one of those five things. This was back in 2002-2006, so there was equity everywhere. Those five things were what he called the base rate of foreclosure, and this will always be there. If Sean had them in 2002 and 2006, he would have had them every time. The problem was not job loss because you could sell your house. It wasn’t negative equity because it just did not exist at the time. Today, your average property in California right now is $150,000 upside down by the time it hits foreclosure. It sold for $400,000, and it is now worth $250,000. It’s really an insurmountable debt, and if you look at the cost of repaying that debt over 30 years, it’s really not practical or smart for anyone trying to pay it. There are moral issues around that and what a lot of people have, but a lot of it does not make sense.
Bruce recently read an article about Fannie and Freddie not wanting to do principle reductions, and to Bruce this makes sense because you have ramifications to that that are negative. One idea Bruce had was to give somebody a principle-only payment until they break even with an appraisal. There are a lot of people who are not current, but you have more people who are current in that situation. Bruce does not want to reward the group that has not made a payment in two years and get in an article saying that it’s wonderful. However, for the people who are making the payment, there might be an eventuality where it gets to them too, especially if the people that aren’t making the payment get the goodies. However, if you just willingly said for whatever it takes, 5% a year you are going to pay principle-down, so at 25% in five years you are back to square. You would probably have a lot of people sign up for this, but Bruce did not know if this was an acceptable suggestion to lenders. Doug, the lender in the group, said there were lots of things that are going to be explored, including principle write-down. There is a lot of momentum building in Washington toward that in particular. The difficulty has always been in the foreclosure space in that there is a run rate of 1 million to 1.5 million given the level of homeownership and the number of households there are. However, the solutions have typically been one on one treatment.
When Doug was in the mortgage-servicing business at the Mortgage Bankers Association, they did a study where they took apart the servicing operation in which there were 17 elements, 14 of them having very clear economies of scale. Three of them have diseconomies of scale, and economies of scale are more expensive as they get larger. One of these is taxes of insurance, so it’s everybody else versus that because of all the local knowledge that you need about the jurisdictions. The other two are default and foreclosure. The question was if the diseconomies of scale were sufficient to override all the other efficiencies in the servicing business. Now that the experiment has been run and we know that are sufficient. The problem in solving it and why the diseconomies exist is that the treatments are a one on one kind of treatment, and you have to have quite a bit of experience in understanding the households’ situation to determine whether or not you have all the information. This could include whether or not the other people fully understand the obligation, whether they are telling you about their willingness to pay, all of the resources that they have available to pay, and their other commitments. It is very intensive.
With a program like this, you should sit down and find some households that would be very effective under that kind of household because you can determine they are willing to meet the commitment over a period of time, they have the resources that are available, and they are willing to have everything documented and make a commitment to that type of program. There are others who you could put in this type of program who would not succeed because they don’t have the criteria. The difficulty is in putting up broad based policy and applying it to everyone because this is where you find problems with the adverse selection. You would also have a bigger problem because not only would you not be selecting some, but you will also be not selecting completely the people that are current. Doug told a funny story about when TARP was voted on for the first time, his mother called him to ask him what he was doing with their money. They paid their mortgage, so when you do debt forgiveness there is a whole bunch of people who have met all their obligations, and there are going to be losses. While they were not involved in the transaction, on the tax side of things they’re going to be involved in repairing the losses. For those who own free and clear houses, they can just get a check.
Sean O’Toole said the idea that the foreclosure process is tough from servicing standpoint is a self-inflicted one. In California, there is a brilliant piece of policy which is on a purchase-money mortgage, there is no recourse. This creates a really fair balance that resolves the issue and makes it very quick and easy to deal with somebody who is not paying. Bruce and Sean jokingly said this is why it only takes 600 days to foreclose in California even though it used to only take 150 days. 150 days is a lot of time to give somebody to try to work through their problems, sell the property, and do whatever else they need to do. If they can’t, they lose the home. This is okay given that it’s no recourse. If you compare it to the rest of the world where you have significant recourse, it can pass on to your children. It’s also a fair balance of risk with the lender because the lender should take that loss. Sean does not think it is fair to let the person stay in the house when they had made a bad decision by buying their house at a certain price. They had plenty of folks giving them bad advice, a lot in the Federal government, but they were part of it. They should lose their house, and we should move forward.
The losses we are trying to prevent are multiplying. You are also creating a whole group of people that feel very entitled to still stay. When The Norris Group buys foreclosures, they have met people at the door who had not made a payment for two years, and the first sentence out of their mouth was, “Cash for Keys.” That is now the expectation. The policy coming out of Washington is increasing that expectation that they should get to live in a home for free for the rest of their lives. Imagine when the government owns all the rentals. If you want to talk about rent control problems and having no future for real estate, that is the proposal that will kill real estate in the United States forever. One of the problems is uncertainty. If some gigantic company owns 10,000 rentals, then Bruce for example would not know what to do with his because he would not know if the playing field was legit and if they are going to put 10,000 houses for sale. However, as a builder Bruce certainly would not carve up dirt waiting because that risk is out there that others could be his competitor at the drop of a hat. We should give investors a shot at taking the inventory down because it is manageable if we do not put it on the market.
Eric mentioned how he had come out of the venture capital industry, and a lot of folks in his industry put a lot of money into bad companies back in the late 90s. When there was a crash, they lost their money from bad investments.
To find out more, tune in next week for I Survived Real Estate 2011, part 4. The Norris Group would like to thank their gold sponsors for the event: Adrenaline Athletics, Coldwell Banker Pioneer Real Estate, Conaway and Conaway, Delmae Properties, Elite Auctions, Inland Empire Investors Forum, Inland Valley Association of Realtors, Keller Williams of Corona, Keystone CPA, Kucan & Clark Partners, LLC, Las Brisas Escrow, Leivas Associates, Mike Cantu, Northern California Real Estate Investors Association, Northern San Diego Real Estate Investors Association, Pacific Sunrise Mortgage, Personal Real Estate Magazine, Raven Paul and Company, Realty 411 Magazine, Rick and LeaAnne Rossiter, Southwest Riverside County Board of Realtors, Starz Photography, uDirect IRA, Wilson Investment Properties, Tony Alvarez, Tri-Emerald Financial Group, and Westin South Coast Plaza. Visit isurvived2011.com for more details.
For more information about The Norris Group’s California hard money loans or our California Trust Deed investments, visit the website or call our office at 951-780-5856 for more information. For upcoming California real estate investor training and events, visit The Norris Group website and our California investor calendar. You’ll also find our award-winning real estate radio show on KTIE 590am at 6pm on Saturdays or you can listen to over 170 podcasts in our free investor radio archive.