Posts tagged ‘Toll Brothers’

That Light May Be a Train

At least one homebuilder is predicting doom and gloom:

"It would be difficult to characterize the position of
home builders as other than in a hard landing," says Robert Toll, chief
executive of luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc., which reported yesterday that net income fell 19% in the third quarter ended July 31. (See related article.)

In his 40 years as a home builder, Mr. Toll says, he
has never seen a slump unfold like the current one. "I've never seen a
downturn in housing without a downturn in employment or... some
macroeconomic nasty condition that took housing down along with other
elements of the economy," he says. "This time, you've got low
unemployment, you've got job creation, you've got a stable stock market
and relatively low interest rates."...

In much of the country, property markets began cooling
rapidly in the second half of last year. Home builders were still
turning out houses at a rapid clip, and the surge of new and previously
occupied homes on the market convinced buyers there was no need to
hurry. Over the past year, the number of previously occupied homes
listed for sale nationwide has risen nearly 40%. In some metropolitan
areas, including Orlando and Phoenix, the supply has quadrupled.

I never got that excited about the run-up in the price of my home, so I won't worry too much if it falls again.   For the average homeowner, the paper-price run-up of housing prices doesn't really have much meaning unless they are considering moving soon to a lower-home-price area or they are going to retire and downsize.  My house supposedly doubled in value in the last four years.  We went out shopping for a home in the area, and you know what?  All the other prices doubled too.  I could trade my current house for about the same house I could trade it for four years ago.  The only really beneficial effect was that the increase in home equity made for useful collateral in a business loan I took out.

Of course, the home speculators may take a bath - there are several latecomers to the speculation / spec home business in my neighborhood who are holding houses that won't sell for the huge prices they are asking.  I posted that this was coming over a year ago, using a model for contrarian investing I learned at the Harvard Business School:  Do the opposite of what doctors and dentists are doing.

Are Homeowners the Largest Government Rent-Seekers?

I read an interesting article in the NY Times, via Marginal Revolution, interviewing the CEO of homebuilder Toll Brothers about housing prices.  His assertion was:

"In Britain you pay seven times your annual income for a home; in the U.S. you
pay three and a half." The British get 330 square feet, per person, in their
homes; in the U.S., we get 750 square feet. Not only does Toll say he believes
the next generation of buyers will be paying twice as much of their annual
incomes; in terms of space, he also seems to think they're going to get only
half as much. "And that average, million-dollar insane home in the burbs? It's
going to be $4 million."

I don't necessarily buy this whole story.  For one, Mr. Toll has business reasons for taking a public position that prices will keep rising - after all, his customers buy his product in part as an investment, and would be leery about paying current prices if they thought prices might fall in the future.  Second, as I have talked about a number of times with petroleum, when prices of any product start to rise, observers always tend to underestimate market and technology responses that might bring supply more into balance.

However, the one exception I did make in my oil price posts was that government supply restrictions, both on lands that can be explored for oil as well as things like refinery permitting, may indeed put structural upward pressure on prices.  And in fact, this is where Mr. Toll puts the blame for high housing prices as well:

Toll agrees with Glaeser et
that the key force driving up prices is zoning and growth regulations. 
In New Jersey it now takes Toll Brothers up to two million dollars in legal fees
and ten years in time to get the permits necessary to build.

Which got me thinking that home owners (of which I am one) may be the worst rent-seekers of all.  Most people are already familiar with the very large tax breaks for home buyers, in the form of the mortgage interest tax deduction, that is not available to people who rent or to people who borrow for purposes other than home purchase.  However, it may be that a much larger implicit subsidy to home-owners is the government restrictions on new home supply.  By restricting supply, the government is keeping prices up for current home-owners and restricting new entrants who might compete with our homes in the resale market.