With the economy being as mercurial as it has, people have had many questions regarding the area's real-estate market. Jim Kinney, vice president of luxury sales for Baird & Warner, talked with Windy City Times about buying/selling, foreclosures and luxury portfoliosand provided a couple of surprising facts in the process.
Windy City Times: Obviously, the economy has affected the real-estate market, as it has everything else. How is the Chicagoland market looking right now?
Jim Kinney: Last year, of course, was the bottom of the market, more or less. Things came to a standstill with credit markets tightening up and everyone dazed by the stock-market collapse, so values plummeted. But we've been slowly building out of that because the government responded with the home-buyer tax-credit stimulus and that ran through the Apriland that helped the first-time buyer market, anyway. There was no stimulus package for the luxury market, however.
So all of these markets, in one way or another, are related to employment. If you have unemployment levels as high as you do, you're not going to have a super-robust housing market. So I think, as a prognostication, we're in for a very slow and deliberate climb out of thisbut I think, unless another shoe drops in the financial world, we've probably seen the bottom.
We've got lots of inventory. Depending on what price points you're in, we've got two to eight years inventory on the market. Right now, in the luxury market, on single-family homes over $1 million there's a 36-month supply market-wide, and on condominiums there's a little more than a two-year supply. Just to give you a point of reference, it's usually considered in balance when there's a six-month supply. So we're way off a balanced-market scenario.
If you're a buyer, put a smile on your face. Interest rates are at historic lows. If someone's getting into the market and has equity to make the purchase, that person's going to luck out in several ways. There's a pullback from high prices and record-low financing. If someone's in the market, that person can probably still sell at a profit if he or she bought a long time ago; if they're looking to trade up, they might take less of a profit on what they're selling, but they'll be able to trade up cheaper than they thought.
The people who are [ out of luck ] are those who bought at the height of the market, in 2005-2007, and have no equity. A lot of people are underwater, meaning they owe more on the mortgage than the home is currently worth. But it's only a problem if they have to sell the property and/or re-finance to take out equity.
WCT: I noticed on the Baird & Warner website that there's an area for foreclosures? Now when do you recommend someone use that particular feature?
JK: We added that to the website because we've gotten so many requests; foreclosures are [ definitely ] part of the market right now. Earlier on this year, almost half of the properties closed in the MLS [ Multiple Listing Service ] were short sales [ when the sale proceeds fall short of the balance owed on the property's loan ] or foreclosures. So we thought we'd make it easier for consumers to find foreclosures.
A foreclosure is when a bank has taken a property back because the loan has gone bad. Just because a property is a foreclosure does not mean it's a deal. Some of these lenders were lending loan-to-value amounts on fairly inflated price tagsand the first thing they do when they take a property back is to recapture the full amount they loaned. Well, if the market is headed south 20-30 percent, they're not going to get that full amountbut they're going to start there. The consumer has to look at what they're asking for, and see that you're not paying over market. "Foreclosure" does not equal "good buy." But consumers see possibilities because they not dealing with sellers but lenders, and often the lenders are willing to take losses. Be prepared to wait to see if the bank is willing to accept a big loss.
WCT: That's a very good point about foreclosures not necessarily being deals. I think many people have that preconceived notion.
JK: Yes. It's like auctions. People think that they can get items at rock-bottom prices. I've actually seen auctions where properties have sold more at auction than they were listed for in the MLS. People get caught up in the bidding frenzy and don't realize how much they pay.
WCT: Let's also talk about something that most people see on the other end of the scale: luxury homes. What are the advantages and disadvantages of seeking such a property?
JK: Often, the luxury-property buyer wants a home that speaks to their lifestyle. It could be an executive or someone else who wants a property that has more than four walls and a roof. It's a way people reward themselves for their success in life. There's a lot of ego often tied to high-end markets. But, at the same time, people like nice things and the higher you go, the more unique the property can become. If you want a 20,000-square-foot home with a basketball court, you're not in FHA [ Federal Housing Administration ] financing.
Back when we had all those acronymsARMs and ALMsone client said he had CRAP. I asked, "What's that?" He said, "Cash really answers the problem." [ Laughter ] A lot of our high-end buyers are cash buyers because there is no government secondary market for jumbo mortgages. Last year, when the market turned south and credit became very tight, there was the stimulus for the low-end market but the jumbo market really froze up; we saw interest rates jump up over 8 percent and down-payment requirements getting as high as 30 percent in some cases. So those are the constraints of the high-end marketbut someone might argue that if you're buying a $4 million house, you should be able to have 30 percent down.
One pitfall with the high-end market is that, with the economic downturn, your potential-buyer market can be miniscule. Typically, we say that the high-end market is the last one to swoon and the first to revive. When the upper end starts to pick up, it's a general consensus that the [ housing-market ] bottom has been reached.
Some people say that all things in real estate start in California, and work our way. The high-end market in San Francisco has been fairly robust recently, with bidding wars and such. So it seems like that market has bottomed out and turned upward.
With Chicago, there was so much new housing inventory addedyou can see how different the skyline looks nowit's going to take a little longer for us to bounce back. We do have supply issues.
WCT: But you're confident that things will at least slowly bounce back.
JK: Everything is a cycle. I tell people that if you want to sell high, you have to buy lowand you have to look at this as an opportunity to buy. I've seen several waves; I rode the inflationary wave of the '70s, when we had very high interest rates and very high inflation. You could buy something and double your down payment in three to six monthsbut your money was becoming worthless, although you had more of it. [ Laughs ]
Then the market tanked in '79-'80, when we had those super-high interest rates. And the first few years of the '80s were a real struggle, not unlike what we have now. Then the market came back in the mid-'80s and we had a downturn in '91. We were due for a downturn in '97, when there was the Asian financial crisis; then the government lowered interest rates, which was like pouring gasoline on a fire. It kept the housing market roaring alongand then we had Y2K, but the dot-com bust didn't really hurt the housing market that badly.
WCT: That's interesting. I thought that, with all the resulting unemployment then, it would hurt the market severely.
JK: The dot-com people relocated fairly quickly. There was some job loss, but it wasn't that bad. These were highly trained people who found other positions pretty quickly. We weathered the storm fairly well in the housing market.
In Chicago, things were running strong without a downturn since '91, so [ a setback ] was long overdue. Because you're in a cyclical market without a down cycle, when you do have one it's going to be longer than if you have them at a regular pace.
WCT: What would be your top tips for buyers and sellers?
JK: For sellers, the tip is to price it right. If you realize that we have two, three, four years of inventory, you have a one-in-four chance you might sell this year. The only way you can get to the front of the line is to price aggressively. Don't leave a lot of room for negotiation.
For buyers, I would say to study the comparable sales data and to approach all listings not on face value, but with the [ help of ] research. Don't be afraid to make a market-price offer on something that's overpriced.
WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add?
JK: I just want to say that it was the gay population that made most of these neighborhoods. They go in, they find the older housing and fix it up. They go where things are really cheap and the area's run downand, the next thing you know, they create trendy neighborhoods. So the gay population, in many instances, has been the saving grace across the country for turning neighborhoods around and bringing value to real estate. So that's something that should be notedthe community does a lot to promote value.
For more on Jim Kinney, visit www.bairdwarner.com/jim.kinney.