Situs Newswatch 8/30/2017

Special Report: Hurricane Harvey & CRE

Flood damage in Texas from Hurricane Harvey may equal that resulting from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

“Houston, the coastal area and a wide swath of inland Texas have been hammered by this storm that doesn’t seem to let up,” says Situs Chief Executive Officer Steve Powel. “The level of property damage to commercial, industrial and residential real estate is unprecedented to anything I have experienced, in almost three decades of residence in Houston. Of significant concern is the fact that so many residences and businesses don’t have flood insurance, because they are located outside of the federally designated flood zone areas. One colleague said today, this is like the ‘800-year flood!’ No doubt property and casualty insurers will have their hands full, but the federal government is likely to bear a significant monetary burden of the underinsured, and the significant investments that will be required to address the city’s necessary infrastructure improvements.”

Powel adds, “Based on past experiences from major storms in the U.S. and Caribbean, aside from the hardships experienced by so many families, the rebuilding effort will no doubt be a stimulus to the Houston economy, which has been challenged by the adverse impact of the depressed energy sector over the past two years. While no one would suggest that the storm was a good thing, rebuilding the fourth largest city in the U.S. will present future opportunities.”

The storm settled over Houston creating flooding of “historic proportions” in the nation’s fourth largest city, according to the National Weather Service. The images emerging from the area are horrifying and with up to 50 inches of rain forecast, the storm conditions continue.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long, who expects 450,000-plus people to apply for federal assistance says, “The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery housing missions the nation has ever seen.”

The Collingwood Group Vice Chairman Brian Montgomery, former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Federal Housing Administration Commissioner, is in Houston, where he spoke about the storm’s devastation and what the government and housing industry can do about it with Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto.
>>Click Here to Watch<<

There is already discussion about Congress allocating emergency money to help rebuild Houston — America’s fourth-largest city — after this massive storm. Remember: these legislative fights are not easy. As HuffPo’s Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) pointed out Sunday night on Twitter, “it’s not always easy to pass these kinds of bills. We have to imagine the level of devastation in Houston, combined with the state’s large delegation in Congress, will make this a bit easier.”

The Collingwood Group Chairman Tim Rood tells Neil Cavuto often such tragedies result in a construction boom:
>> Click here to Watch<<

The National Flood Insurance Program expires at the end of September, and unless Congress acts, the government runs out of money Sept. 30 while the debt ceiling needs to be raised by Sept. 29.


More than 17,000 people are seeking refuge in Texas shelters, the American Red Cross said. With rescues continuing, that number seemed certain to grow.

President Trump calls Hurricane Harvey a storm of “epic proportions” and says he hopes his administration’s response to the disaster will be regarded as a model.

“We want to be looked at five years, 10 years from now, as this is the way to do it,” Trump said as he and his wife, Melania, received a briefing on the storm response Tuesday morning at a fire station in Corpus Christi, Texas yesterday morning.

“Why Wasn’t Houston Evacuated Before The ‘Unprecedented’ Storm?” by BuzzFeed’s Nidhi Prakash: “Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner defended the decision, telling reporters at a press conference officials did not expect the city to be directly in the line of the storm, and that there was not time to evacuate residents safely. ‘In this particular case, the hurricane, we were not in the direct line,’ Turner said. ‘It is true we anticipated a lot of rain, a lot of rain. But the best place for people to be is in their homes.’ ‘You cannot in the city of Houston put 2.3 million people on the road. That is dangerous,’ he continued. ‘When you combine Houston and Harris County, you literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare. Especially when it’s not planned.’ To illustrate this, Turner pointed to the city’s disastrous evacuation efforts during Hurricane Rita in 2005, when some 2.5 million residents tried to leave Houston before the storm, creating monumental traffic jams and leaving 100 people dead.'”

“FEMA director says Harvey is probably the worst disaster in Texas history,” by WaPo’s Joel Achenbach and Lisa Rein: “The disaster Hurricane Harvey — now a tropical storm — has created is immense in scale, encompassing thousands of square miles of Southeast Texas. It has brought epic flooding that will affect millions of people. Rivers are still rising, the rain still falling. ‘This will be a devastating disaster, probably the worst disaster the state’s seen,’ William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told The Washington Post on Sunday. ‘The recovery to this event is going to last many years to be able to help Texas and the people impacted by this event achieve a new normal.'”In wake of Hurricane Harvey, Freddie Mac sent out a reminder of its disaster relief policies, urging families affected by the storm to contact their mortgage servicer.

Freddie Mac says it will be working with servicers to ensure that no property inspection costs resulting directly from Hurricane Harvey will be passed on to the affected borrowers. Additionally, Freddie is suspending evictions and foreclosures on homes that are secured by Freddie Mac owned or guaranteed mortgages in disaster areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

“We strongly encourage the many American families whose homes or businesses are being impacted by Hurricane Harvey to call their mortgage servicer if the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s declaration is announced,” said Yvette Gilmore, vice president of single-family servicer performance management at Freddie Mac. “Relief, including forbearance on mortgage payments for up to one year, may be available if their mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac.”

Fannie Mae’s disaster relief guidelines allow servicers to suspend or reduce a homeowner’s mortgage payment for up to 90 days if the servicer believes a natural disaster brought down the value or habitability of the property or if the natural disaster temporarily impacted the homeowner’s ability to make payments on the mortgage.The Department of Housing and Urban Development is extending disaster relief efforts to some homeowners in the Houston area. HUD Secretary Ben Carson urged the nation to put aside its differences and focus all efforts on helping those affected by the hurricane.

Amazon Cuts Whole Foods Prices  Will It Save Brick & Mortar?
Amazon spent Monday, its first day as the owner of Whole Foods, cutting prices by as much as 43 percent.

Organic Fuji apples were marked down to $1.99 a pound from $3.49 a pound; organic avocados went to $1.99 each from $2.79; organic rotisserie chicken fell to $9.99 each from $13.99, and the price of some bananas was slashed to 49 cents per pound from 79 cents. The marked-down items had orange signs reading “Whole Foods + Amazon.” The signs listed the old price, the new price and “More to come…” reports Bloomberg.“I was at a University of North Carolina CRE conference where the former director of logistics at Amazon was speaking,” says Situs Executive Managing Director Steven Bean. “He talked a great deal about Amazon wanting to conquer the grocery space, but how the company was challenged to develop logistics for perishable items — think bananas without bruises — to customers in optimum condition, often referred to as the ‘last mile.’ Seems like this time, Amazon decided to join ‘them’ — buying into sticks-and-bricks.”

The more than 460 Whole Foods stores across the country give Ama­zon ac­cess to the kind of re­frig­erated dis­tri­b­u­tion system its reg­u­lar ful­fillment net­work lacks, while tap­ping into the up­scale nat­ural and or­ganic foods mar­ket that it has barely touched.

“Supermarkets that don’t adapt quickly to changes in con­sumer be­hav­ior and busi­ness dy­nam­ics won’t survive,” warns Situs RERC President Ken Riggs. “It may all start with keeping bananas bruise-free, but what does Ama­zon do next? Once they’ve mastered the Whole Foods space, they’ll learn how to play in main­stream retail, too.” Riggs adds, “No telling how Amazon will tweak the format in the end. But be warned, as Amazon moves into bricks-and-mortar stores, we are looking at the clash of the titans, Amazon versus Walmart. There will be causalities among those that compete with these titans.”

The tech giant’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods has sent shock waves through the already changing $800 billion supermarket industry. The wedding between Amazon and the upscale grocery promises to upend the way customers shop for groceries. Cutting prices at the chain with such an entrenched reputation for high cost that its nickname is Whole Paycheck is a sign that Amazon is serious about taking on competitors such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Cashing In Big Time on Home Equity
Rising home prices are making borrowers comfortable again with the idea of tapping their homes for cash.

Home-equity lines of credit and cash-out mortgage refinances are cool again. That reflects growing confidence and is a potential benefit to the economy as homeowners have more money to spend.

“It’s well understood in economic circles that people will generally increase their spending by about $5 for each $100 increase in their net wealth,” says the Collingwood Group Chairman Tim Rood. “Before the housing crisis, homeowners were often spending as much as 20 cents of every dollar of appreciation in their home value. The discrepancy between spending from other forms of wealth when compared to house price appreciation is viewed as more durable than wealth created by things like stock market increases. As a result, home-equity withdrawals by homeowners in the mid-2000’s reached hundreds of billions of dollars a year before the housing crisis in 2007.”

But this time around banks insist the increased borrowing doesn’t herald a return to housing-bubble days when consumers came to view their homes as cash registers. Banks say they are being more cautious in how they make such loans and some add they are encouraging borrowers to tackle renovations or consolidate debt — uses that are considered investments rather than luxuries.

The Wall Street Journal reports: Home-equity line originations rose 8% to nearly $46 billion in the second quarter, their highest level since 2008, according to credit-reporting firm Equifax. Borrowing via cash-out mortgage refinances hit $15 billion, up 6% from a year earlier, according to recent data from Freddie Mac.

The main engine driving demand: rising home prices. The median sale price of an existing home rose to $263,800 in June, the highest on record, up 40% from $187,900 at the start of 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Home Prices Keep Moving Ever Higher
Home prices reached another all new high across the country in June.

Nationally, home prices increased 5.8% from June 2016, up from May’s gain of 5.7%, to hit 192.6, an all new high, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index.


S&P Dow Jones, CoreLogic

The 10-City Composite increased 4.9% annually, down from last month’s 5% annual increase, and the 20-City Composite increased 5.7% annually, the same as last month’s gain.

The chart above shows while the National Index reached a new high in June, the 10-City and 20-City Composites continue to rise, and are currently at their winter 2007 levels.

Seattle, Portland and Dallas reported the highest increases in June.

Homebuyers Flock to Chicago, Avoid Bay Area, Study says 
ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of the nation’s largest multi-sourced property database, has released its Q2 2017 Pre-Mover Housing Index, which shows that the markets with the highest pre-mover indices during the second quarter — predictive of strong sales activity in the third quarter — were Colorado Springs, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Reno, Nevada; and Lexington, Kentucky.Using data collected from purchase loan applications on residential real estate transactions, the ATTOM Data Solutions Pre-Mover Housing Index is based on the ratio of homes with a “pre-mover” flag during a quarter to total homes in a given geography, indexed off the national average. An index above 100 is above the national average and indicates an above-average ratio of homes that will likely be sold in the next 30 to 90 days in a given market.

The top five markets — among 122 total metro areas analyzed for the report — all posted a pre-mover index above 200, or twice the national average. Other markets in the top 10 for highest pre-mover index in the second quarter were Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida (198); Kingsport-Bristol, Tennessee (195); Lancaster, Pennsylvania (191); Jacksonville, Florida (189); and Charleston, South Carolina (188).

Among the same 122 metro areas analyzed for the report, those with the lowest pre-mover indices in the second quarter were San Francisco, California (31); Rochester, New York (32); Honolulu, Hawaii (36); Providence, Rhode Island (44); and Grand Rapids, Michigan (46).

“Markets with a healthy mix of access to good jobs and relatively affordable housing attracted the most interest from pre-movers in the second quarter, a harbinger of strong home sales activity in the third quarter,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “Meanwhile in some of the nation’s hottest housing markets, there was more pre-mover interest in outlying counties further away from jobs but with more affordable homes to purchase. We see this pattern playing out in places like Denver, New York, Seattle, and Southern California.”

read more: Attom Data SolutionsSpeaking of Chicago, Condo Owners Eye Cashing in on Rental Market
During real-estate booms developers often rush to convert rental buildings into condos to take advantage of skyrocketing prices. But in an unusual reversal, investors in Chicago are transforming condos into apartments.

Dozens of stately Chicago condo buildings are or have recently been converted into rentals, real-estate agents say. One of these “deconversion” efforts is being attempted at a roughly 400-unit building on Chicago’s Gold Coast, an area overlooking Lake Michigan, which would be one of the largest ever.

These projects reflect the preference to rent rather than buy among many millennials flooding into hip urban areas. Investors also are reacting to the Chicago condo market’s lackluster recovery from the recession, even in some of the city’s most desirable areas.

Chicago condo prices peaked in early 2007 before plummeting 35% to touch bottom in early 2013. They have begun to recover, but remain 15% below their previous peak, according to the real-estate website Zillow.

Rental prices, meanwhile, have risen 24% over the past seven years to a record, according to Real Page, a real-estate software and data analytics firm.

read more: Wall St Journal

Simon Property Reaches Settlement in Antitrust Investigation by New York 
New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and retail property giant Simon Property Group Inc. reached a settlement in an antitrust case that requires Simon to end practices that the attorney general alleged protected Simon’s popular Woodbury Common Premium Outlets from competition.

Simon Property, the largest shopping mall owner in the U.S., agreed to pay the state $945,000 and revise existing leases to end restrictions that deterred retailers from opening additional outlet stores, according to a press release from the attorney general. The company didn’t deny or admit to wrongdoing, the statement said.

Mr. Schneiderman said the settlement was a victory for New York regional shoppers. “No business should be allowed to stifle an entire industry at the expense of consumers — but for years, that’s exactly what Simon Property Group did to New Yorkers,” his written statement said.

But Indianapolis-based Simon issued a statement after the settlement was announced describing the two-year investigation by the attorney general’s office as “meritless.” Simon also said the probe “has become an unnecessary distraction” and that the company believes its time “is best spent focusing on providing the best shopping and working environment to the Woodbury Common community.”

read more: Wall St Journal

Chinese Automaker Sets Sights on Acquiring Jeep
Chinese automaker Great Wall Motor Co. told Automotive News it is interested in buying the Jeep brand and has reached out to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to see whether a deal can be negotiated.

The move would slice Jeep from the rest of FCA’s brands, leaving question marks over the future of Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram. FCA already said it would consider splitting Alfa Romeo and Maserati into their own company.​

Great Wall President Wang Fengying, listed by Fortune as the seventh most powerful woman in Asia, wrote in an email to Automotive News that Great Wall intends to buy Jeep and is “connecting with FCA” to begin negotiations.

FCA said on Monday in a statement that it had not been approached by Great Wall in connection with the Jeep brand or any other matter relating to its business.

It is not surprising Great Wall wants Jeep only. Analysts say Jeep is unquestionably the most valuable part of FCA’s portfolio and theoretically worth more on its own than the automaker as a whole. ​

read more: Automotive News

Yahoo ordered to pay millions for Quicken Loans contract that busted bracket deal 
Yahoo Inc. owes a prize promoter $5.5 million for backing out of a contract to pay $1 billion for predicting every winner in the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and entering a similar contract with Quicken Loans Inc. and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a court decided on Monday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said SCA Promotions Inc. was entitled to half of its $11 million contract with Yahoo as a cancellation penalty.

It rejected Yahoo’s claim that Dallas-based SCA improperly leaked the promotion to Buffett and Berkshire, while trying to line up insurance coverage for the grand prize.

Berkshire is well-known for insuring against potentially costly events with long odds, such as picking a perfect “March Madness” bracket, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament is known.

“Any information that SCA disclosed to Berkshire Hathaway was not confidential information,” Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote for a three-judge panel.

Because SCA had kept Yahoo’s $1.1 million deposit, the appeals court on Monday awarded it another $4.4 million.

No one won the top prize.

read more: Reuters

Our best wishes go out to the people of the Gulf Coast, with hope for a speedy recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

Have a prosperous day.

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