It has been over a year since we listed the three “pillars” of the latest dead cat bounce in the housing market. Recall: “the REO-to-Rental subsidized investment program, which led to an epic surge in demand for multi-family housing, i.e., rental, units was, together with offshore investors parking their cash in the US for safekeeping (taking advantage of the NAR’s anti-money laundering check exemptions) and the big banks Foreclosure Stuffing, the key reason for the recent, stimulus-fueled and quite transitory bounce in house prices in assorted markets.” In other words, the latest artificial move higher in the housing market had nothing to do with an “improving” economy (and implicitly, everything to do with the epic injection of liquidity by all global central banks and chinese loan creation). Today we got confirmation that once again we were correct: to wit: “Douglas Elliman rep: 70% of Brooklyn home sales going to hedge funds, investors and international buyers.”
In other words, just over two thirds of the “bounce” in the Brooklyn housing market has – much to the chagrin of hipsters everywhere – been due to the REO-to-Rent program and various other initiatives to make Wall Street America’s biggest landlord, as well as foreigners parking hot cash in the US, for money laundering reasons or otherwise.
Standing in the dining room of the early 1900s-era brick rowhouse, deep in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn with not a frozen yogurt shop or Starbucks to be found, Alan Dixon, an investor from Australia, struggled to tally the houses he had bought in the area over the last year.
“What, 70? 72?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in question at a group of investors, contractors and designers standing nearby. A dozen construction workers scurried around, fastening plasterboard to walls and laying tile on floors, readying the four-bedroom house that the group purchased in June for $635,000 for leasing in less than two weeks’ time for as much as $5,490 a month.
Finally, someone locates the number on a piece of paper — 70, later corrected to 71. “That sounds right. Something like that,” Mr. Dixon said with a laugh, tugging on the cuff of the pink shirt he wore under his gray suit jacket.
It’s easy to understand why it might be difficult for Mr. Dixon to keep track. In just two years, the investment fund he oversees for Australian investors and retirees has purchased more than 538 homes, townhouses and brownstones from Jersey City to Queens and Brooklyn.
Mr. Dixon and his investments in New York area residential real estate are a microcosm of a much bigger trend sweeping the country.
A handful of large private equity and real estate investment firms, including the Blackstone Group and Colony Capital, have bought billions of dollars’ worth of single-family homes in some of the areas most affected by the housing collapse. The goal for these Wall Street investors is not to buy and flip the properties for a quick profit à la real estate bubble of the early 2000s. Instead, they are hunting for steady, dividend-like returns they believe can be earned by renting out the homes.
“I’d say by the spring, maybe 70 percent of the sales we were seeing were to hedge funds, investors and others taking advantage of what was happening in Brooklyn,” said Stephanie O’Brien, a real estate broker with Douglas Elliman in Brooklyn. “Only about 30 percent were actual end users or first-time buyers.”
The higher prices have changed the character and makeup of neighborhoods, often pushing more lower- and middle-income families farther east in the borough. “What’s happening is good, because it increases real estate values, but on the other hand people who have been living in these neighborhoods and hoping to one day buy or rent a larger apartment are getting priced out,” said Ron Schweiger, the Brooklyn borough historian.
So with 70% of “buyers” accounted for by the Wall Street investment and the international money laundering community, the other 30% or so of the appreciation has been banks continuing to keep millions of shadow inventory units off the market, creating an artificial subsidy and pushing prices higher due to a fake housing shortage.
Oh, and no so-called recovery.