How to get rich quick? Have a legislator carve you out a loophole.

From the Press of Atlantic City:

NJ’s leveling of room tax playing field also dug a loophole

We’ve long felt it was unfair and detrimental to the hospitality industry for New Jersey to pile room taxes and fees on hotels while giving online room renters such as Airbnb a free ride. So we were glad that legislators and the governor finally leveled that playing field in this year’s budget agreement.

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders did this in a way that created a loophole for one accommodations segment and handed the real estate industry a big gift.

Now everyone who rents out rooms and homes on a short-term basis will pay the state sales tax of 6.625 percent, the state occupancy 5 percent tax, plus local room taxes — a total that can approach 14 percent — except those who pay a licensed real estate broker to hand guests the key.

Really. That doesn’t make any sense, and the Democrats who reached this compromise didn’t offer an explanation or argument in support of this combination tax exemption and real estate industry subsidy. That suggests it’s a shameless ploy for support from brokers and certain vacation property owners.

Democrats may have arrived at this freakishly distorted tax policy, however, somewhat by accident. And the alternatives, such as they are, probably won’t appeal to those on the losing side of this unfair tax scheme.

t may seem like only a politician could love such an unfair solution that just happens to reward a narrow constituency. But the property owners who rent their rooms and homes on their own might come to prefer it as well.

The only legislative alternative we see is, as Sweeney proposed, to tax all short-term renters of rooms and houses equally. Just strike the words from the new law that rentals aren’t “considered transient accommodations … where the keys to the property … are provided to the lessee at the location of an offsite real estate broker.” That’s a ridiculously untrue statement anyway.

That would be the fairest approach and surely state officials would welcome the additional tax and fee revenue.

Discount rental key offices will probably arise up and down the shore, competing on price for the simple business of handing out keys. Condo associations may even find it worthwhile to get together and get someone licensed as a real estate broker to hand out keys.

Posted in New Jersey Real Estate, Shore Real Estate | 17 Comments

How can the housing market be slowing?

From the NYT:

Why the Housing Market Is Slumping Despite a Booming Economy

These should be happy times for the housing sector. The economy is booming, with more people working at higher pay, and with the sizable millennial generation reaching prime home buying age.

Instead, the housing market has gone soft, acting as a drag on the overall economy rather than as a force propelling it forward.

Sales of new single-family homes were down 22 percent in September from their recent high in November 2017, and existing home sales in September were down 10 percent. This tepid residential investment subtracted from G.D.P. growth in each of the first three quarters of 2018.

Home prices have not declined nationally, at least according to the most widely followed indexes. But their rate of increase has declined, and more and more home sellers are finding they must reduce asking prices to find a buyer.

Given how central housing is to the broader economy — it is the biggest driver of both wealth and indebtedness for most families, and its fluctuations have frequently been major factors in past booms and busts — this slump isn’t something to be taken lightly for anyone hoping the good times will last.

So what’s going on?

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Employment, National Real Estate | 29 Comments

Monopoly for Millennials is making them mad

Given the weather and hellacious afternoon commute in store for us, I thought I’d post something entertaining. From Fortune:

Millennials Tell Hasbro Just How Insulting ‘Monopoly for Millennials’ Really Is

Hasbro has released a new game, “Monopoly for Millennials,” and it’s getting some blowback from the very demographic the game is supposedly meant to entertain.

The game’s rules and cover art all play up stereotypes the age group is known for.

The box for the game shows Mr. Monopoly taking a selfie, wearing headphones and a participation medal and holding a coffee. The taglines read: “Forget real estate, you can’t afford it anyway,” and “Adulting is hard. You deserve a break from the rat race!” Rather than win by collecting the most money, the game prompts players to collect experiences—including visiting a friend’s couch, going to a vegan bistro, and hitting a week-long meditation retreat. Game pieces include a hashtag and crying emoji.

Though some people are amused by the game, others found the mockery infuriating and took to Twitter to express their irritation.

Many people expressed their annoyance by taking a jab at Baby Boomers.

Can you provide the URL for the Hasbro-official website featuring “Monopoly for Millennials,” where you trash on my age demographic because baby boomers caused an economic catastrophe that rendered us financially impotent for a decade? Thanks!

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Employment, Humor | 154 Comments

A better outcome for NNJ?

Is this actually the best result for NJ? Discuss. From the WSJ:

New York City and Northern Virginia will be the homes for Amazon.com Inc.’s second and third headquarters, according to people familiar with the matter, ending a more than yearlong public contest that started with 238 candidates and ended with a surprise split of its so-called HQ2.

The imminent announcement is expected as soon as Tuesday, according to the people. Other cities may also receive major sites, some of the people said.

Amazon is dividing the second headquarters evenly between New York’s Long Island City and Arlington County’s Crystal City neighborhoods, which are both located directly across from the major city centers. The company plans to evenly split the offices with as many as 25,000 employees.

The decision effectively gives Amazon a major presence in three coastal hubs that politically lean left, at a time when tech companies are under scrutiny for their perceived elitism and liberal social views.

Amazon declined to comment.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed the Amazon deal Monday night during his weekly television appearance, although he didn’t confirm that the city had been officially selected. He was hopeful that HQ2 would come to New York City. “We’re talking about the single biggest economic development deal in the history of New York City,” he said.

Amazon’s move to New York pits it against rival Google, which is gearing up for its own expansion in the city. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Alphabet Inc. unit will add office space for more than 12,000 new workers, an amount nearly double the search giant’s current staffing in the city, people familiar with the matter said. On Monday night at the Journal’s D.Live tech conference, Google financial chief Ruth Porat confirmed the company plans to double its New York City staff of 7,000 over a decade.

Posted in Economics, Employment, North Jersey Real Estate, NYC | 161 Comments

Will NJ hit $15?

From the Star Ledger:

Vote on $15 minimum wage for N.J. coming soon, top Democrat says

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said Friday he expects his house will vote in the coming months on a much-anticipated bill raising the minimum wage gradually to $15 an hour.

Despite broad support among Democratic lawmakers for this big boost in the minimum wage, legislation has snagged on disagreements over whether certain categories of workers should be excluded.

Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said on radio station 1450 WCTC that he hopes to have a completed bill “in very short order” that the Assembly can vote on in December, at the earliest.

“If it doesn’t get done at the Dec. 17th voting session, then it will be done right after the new year, probably at the first voting session in January,” he said. “At least that’s my goal as of right now.”

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told NJ Advance Media on Friday that Coughlin has been drafting a bill that will become the basis for negotiations between the two houses.

Sweeney is hopeful the Legislature can meet the speaker’s timeline, he said.

“I’m going to work with the speaker and I expect to get it done,” Sweeney said. “I think we’ll get there pretty quick.”

New Jersey’s minimum wage is $8.60 an hour. It will rise 25 cents an hour to $8.85 on Jan. 1, based on a constitutional amendment tying annual increases to changes in the consumer price index.

Posted in Demographics, Economics, New Jersey Real Estate | 42 Comments

Murphy, you want an innovation economy? Fix these.

From the APP:

3 reasons NJ lost out on Amazon HQ: Bhatti

Here are the top three reasons New Jersey lost:

1. Too expensive for Amazon: Seven billion dollars of tax incentives wasn’t enough. New Jersey made national news when it became known that it offered Amazon $7 billion in tax incentives to move to New Jersey. However, that number needs to be put in context. New Jersey is the most expensive state in the union to do business and often ranks dead last in business-friendly environments. Given the high sales, income, property and business taxes imposed by the state, we needed to offer $7 billion in concessions to just be on par with states who offered fewer concessions but were more attractive because of their low taxes and low-cost basis.

The lesson here is that New Jersey needs to get its house in order. No big business or tech company wants to make a home in a state that is strained under its own debt. Simply put, the state is too expensive for tech and venture capital. When smart founders and CEOs look at the numbers, they say that being in New Jersey will actually be more expensive than being in New York City. I was shown by venture capitalists why New York City is a better place to base their home than New Jersey because of how the state taxes funds.

2. The New Jersey Sandwich: For years, New Jersey has tried to compete with New York for tech talent. However, we must accept the fact that New Jersey will never have the same ecosystem that New York City has for attracting talent. Every year, several hundred thousand people move to the city to be the next startup founder or Wall Street hot shot. I have been pushing for New Jersey to develop it’s own “core” in complex manufacturing, IoT, AI and robotics, areas that New York City does not yet have a market lead in. It’s imperative that we aggressively push industry sectors where we can win and get them going in New Jersey as soon as possible.

I have noticed an alarming trend that I refer to as the New Jersey Sandwich. Many founders and tech companies from both the West Coast and East Coast are moving to the Midwest and surrounding area. The reason: lower costs, lower taxes, better quality of life for employees and more friendly regulations. I was recently on the phone with a CEO who was excited at moving over half his company from New York City to Nashville. He said that he will be able to pay a lower base, but the employees will have a higher quality of life, their dollar will go farther and in most cases a working family can have one partner be a stay-at-home parent.

3. The Talent Drain: New Jersey ranks first in the country in millennials moving out and last in the country in millennials moving in. I had one CEO tell me that he does not even recruit out-of-state hires because it’s so hard to get them to move to New Jersey. If we keep draining young talent at this rate, New Jersey will become an even tougher place for tech innovation.

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Employment, New Development, New Jersey Real Estate | 129 Comments

Glutton for punishment

From the Star Ledger:

Election 2018: N.J. voters OK $500 million for school security, water improvements

New Jersey voters on Tuesday approved a proposal to borrow $500 million to expand vocational schools and bolster security across K-12 school districts, according to projections from the Associated Press.

Voters were asked whether they support the Securing Our Children’s Future Act, a $500 million bond measure that also includes funding for county colleges and improving water systems in K-12 schools. It was the only statewide ballot question.

New Jersey’s Constitution requires that new state borrowing be approved by a majority of voters.

Proponents of the bond issue had argued career and technicals schools need to expand to serve more students. For every seat at the schools, there are 2.3 applications, and last year 17,000 students were turned away.

The technical skills gap between New Jersey’s workforce and industry needs is holding back the state’s economy, they said, while limited admissions are depriving students of training for careers in welding, clean energy, construction and logistics.

The $500 million bond issue is half of what New Jersey lawmakers wanted. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, cut it from $1 billion out of concern for the state’s already high debt burden.

At $1 billion, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projected the new debt would add $57.5 million to $72.3 million in new borrowing costs every year through 2048, for a total of $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion.

State officials have not said how much $500 million in new borrowing would cost each year. New Jersey is one of the most indebted states and is paying more than $4 billion this year to service its debt.

Posted in Demographics, Economics, New Jersey Real Estate, Politics | 158 Comments

NJ Transit will do a great job

From NJ Spotlight:

NEW NJ TRANSIT DIVISION TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HEFTY REAL ESTATE PORTFOLIO

New Jersey Transit is among the mass-transit agencies that rely the most on fare revenues, according to a recent audit, which suggested a hefty real-estate portfolio could be better leveraged to bring in more for the operating budget.

Several weeks after the release of the audit that raised this issue, Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law a measure requiring NJ Transit to establish a new division that will concentrate solely on real estate, economic development and so-called transit-oriented development that is generally located within walking distance of train stations.

The new law also requires NJ Transit to provide both the administration and lawmakers a host of information about its real estate every year, including a full inventory of all agency-owned properties and projections of their revenue-generating potential.

“NJ Transit is the second largest landholder in the state, and there has never been a listing of all [its] properties,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex). “This will help us moving forward in determining how to allocate funding to ensure that there are no wasted dollars.”

NJ Transit officials hope the real-estate inventory and emphasis on economic development within the agency will generate more private-sector interest in developing agency-owned properties and ultimately create a new revenue stream that could ease the burden on riders. The new law is also drawing praise from smart-growth planning advocates as it is expected to encourage more innovative development around train stations in the type of walkable, “transit-oriented” communities that are in high demand among millennials.

“The information and recommendations NJ Transit will receive from the office’s analysis will prove valuable and assist them in efforts to strategically generate additional non-fare revenue sources moving forward,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer).

Putting a bigger emphasis on new development in communities located near or adjacent to NJ Transit train stations should also fit in with the broader approach to economic development and housing that the governor has sketched out as a key policy goal. Among the many new programs Murphy proposed during a major speech in Nutley last month is a new state tax-credit program that would seek to incentivize new investment in New Jersey’s cities, downtowns and aging suburban communities that are linked to mass transit.

Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, praised that vision and overall “strategic plan” after the governor signed the bill.

“New Jersey is seeing substantial demand for walkable downtowns, particularly those situated near and around transit, and the creation of an office of transit-oriented development within NJ Transit will be a great resource to help meet that demand,” Kasabach said.

Posted in New Development, New Jersey Real Estate, Politics, Where's the Beef? | 76 Comments

Sorry NJ

From the Star Ledger:

Amazon in ‘advanced’ talks with a city for HQ2. It’s not Newark.

Newark’s chances at landing Amazon’s second headquarters is looking more like a long shot.

Amazon officials are reportedly in “advanced discussions” about establishing its second business hub in Northern Virginia, according to a Washington Post article on Saturday.

Cities across the continent have contended for the new headquarters, dubbed HQ2, offering huge tax breaks in exchange for the retail giant’s estimated 50,000 jobs and a $5 billion investment.

But on Saturday it appeared as if Crystal City, Virginia, had emerged as the front-running city for the online behemoth.

The Post reported that officials from the northern Virginia city and the surrounding county have discussed how quickly employees could move there, what office real estate was available and how to publicly announce the decision. JGB Smith, the city’s top real estate developer has even pulled some of its buildings off the market and earmarked them for Amazon, according to the article.

There has been no official word from Amazon, though, and the company could also be discussing similar details with other cities.

The news would likely come as a huge disappointment to cities that have been wooing the company since it announced its HQ2 competition in fall 2017.

Posted in Demographics, Economics, New Development, New Jersey Real Estate | 71 Comments

Home price growth continues to slow

From CNBC:

Home price gains fall below 6% for the first time in a year: August S&P Case-Shiller index

Mortgage interest rates didn’t begin their recent surge until the start of September, but home prices were already feeling pressure, as fewer people could afford what was for sale.

Nationally, prices rose 5.8 percent in August compared with August 2017, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home prices index. That is less than the 6 percent annual gain in July.

The index’s 10-City Composite rose 5.1 percent annually, down from 5.5 percent in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 5.5 percent year-over-year gain, down from 5.9 percent in the previous month.

“Following reports that home sales are flat to down, price gains are beginning to moderate,” David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a release. “Rising prices may be pricing some potential home buyers out of the market, especially when combined with mortgage rates approaching 5 percent for 30-year fixed rate loans.”

The market is beginning to balance more between supply and demand, following one of the strongest seller’s markets in decades. There is little concern, however, that prices will actually fall, only that the gains will fall back to more normal, historical levels of 3 percent to 4 percent annually.

“There are no signs that the current weakness will become a repeat of the crisis, however. In 2006, when home prices peaked and then tumbled, mortgage default rates bottomed out and started a three year surge,” said Blitzer. “Today, the mortgage default rates reported by the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices are stable. Without a collapse in housing finance like the one seen 12 years ago, a crash in home prices is unlikely.”

Posted in Economics, Mortgages, National Real Estate | 160 Comments

The “fix” is easy

The fix is to allow lenders to foreclose without requiring approval of the judiciary, everything else is a gimmick and give-away, like this from NJ101.5:

HOW CAN WE FIX SOUTH JERSEY’S TROUBLING FORECLOSURE MESS?

A new report finds the foreclosure crisis in South Jersey is more severe than any other part of the state.

The report finds New Jersey has highest foreclosure rate in the nation.

Darren Spielman, the executive director of the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers-Camden, said the average foreclosure rate in the Garden State is 1 in every 639 housing units. But six of the eight counties with the highest foreclosure rates are in South Jersey.

He said this is the result of lower incomes in South Jersey.

“The economy hasn’t rebounded the same way it has up north coming out of the recession. There are still pockets of low employment,” he said.

He noted when properties are sitting for years as real estate owned, which means they’re foreclosed and owned by a bank or the municipality, they lose about half their value, which in turn drags down the value of other homes in the area.

The report points out that along with the high number of foreclosures, South Jersey has a high percentage of lower and middle-wage individuals living in homes and apartments they can’t afford.

“If you look at the six counties with the highest foreclosure rates, nearly 61 percent of renters are in housing that is unaffordable based on federal guidelines, and more than half of owners are in unaffordable housing,” he said.

To address this, he said we need “to create an efficient process to get foreclosed properties back on the market in a way that they can get into the hands of residents in an affordable way.”

Posted in Economics, Foreclosures, South Jersey Real Estate | 64 Comments

Strollers hit Jersey City

From the NY Times:

Jersey City Grows Up

When Zacheus and Ratri Chan showed up at an open house for a townhouse in the Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City last fall, there was a line down the street.

The six-bedroom was listed at $300,000, but it needed a fair amount of work. “In the basement, there was a sewage leak. And there was some water damage to the roof, some exposed walls. It didn’t smell good,” Mr. Chan said.

Despite the house’s condition, the Chans put in a $520,000 offer, outbidding more than 20 other prospective buyers.

“We just wanted that place,” Mr. Chan said, adding that they had been won over by details like the plaster ceiling medallions and what appears to be the home’s original wallpaper — apparently the only things in good condition.

The Chans, who first moved to Jersey City 12 years ago, into a two-bedroom condo downtown, are putting another $500,000 into the renovation. “We have a daughter who is almost 3. We love the city and feel like we want to be here longer.”

It’s an increasingly common sentiment in Jersey City.

As the city’s population has grown and its skyline has been redrawn with new high-rises over the past decade, singles and couples who moved there as young adults are electing to stay and raise families.

At the same time, new waves of priced-out Manhattan and Brooklyn residents show no signs of abating. As of July 2017, Jersey City had 270,753 residents, an increase of 9.3 percent since 2010, according to estimates from the United States Census Bureau. The number of families has also increased, from 56,997 to 59,886.

“Jersey City has been maturing for decades. At this point, it’s an extremely well-known marketplace and is seen as a housing opportunity for anyone moving to the New York scene,” said Michael Barry, the president and an owner of Ironstate Development Company. “It used to be much younger, but people that came here in the 80s and 90s stayed and fell in love with the area. Now people don’t move out when they have school-age children anymore.”

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Gold Coast, New Development | 15 Comments

SALT cap hits the Northeast … hard

From Bloomberg:

Housing Is Tanking in the Northeast. Guess Why.

Sales of new single-family houses were down 13.2 percent in September from a year earlier, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. That’s a lot — the biggest year-over-year percentage decline since April 2011, when the housing bust was still busting.

It is also within the margin of error. The Census Bureau doesn’t go out and count every home sold. It takes a sample, and it estimates that there is a 90 percent likelihood that actual home sales nationwide in September were somewhere between 26.8 percent lower than a year before and 0.4 percent higher. The midpoint of that range is 13.2 percent.

There was one region of the country, though, where home sales were definitely down by a lot. That would be the Northeast, where new home sales fell year over year at a rate somewhere between 31.2 percent and 71.4 percent (midpoint: 51.3 percent):

Why might this have happened? Nationwide, rising interest rates would seem to be the obvious culprit for any decline in home sales. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.85 percent as of Oct. 18, up from 3.88 percent a year before and higher than it’s been since 2011, according to Freddie Mac. “High mortgage rates are preventing consumers from making quick decisions on home purchases,” National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun said in reporting a 4.1 percent year-over-year drop in existing home sales last week.

But there’s this other thing that’s weighing on the Northeastern housing market: the provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in December that restricts deductions for state and local taxes (aka SALT) to $10,000 a year. Some homeowners in states with (1) high housing prices and (2) high property tax rates will see much bigger tax bills as a result. Those homeowners happen to be concentrated in the Northeast. According to the Tax Foundation, the states with the biggest per-capita property tax bills are, in descending order, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

Posted in Economics, National Real Estate, New Jersey Real Estate, Politics, Property Taxes | 70 Comments

New home sales “collapse” in the Northeast.

From CNBC:

New home sales drop 5.5% in September to near two-year low

New home sales plunged in September, falling 5.5 percent to an almost two-year low amid pressures from rising interest rates that have hammered the real estate market.

The Commerce Department reported that sales for the month came in at 553,000 on seasonally adjusted basis. That’s 5.5 percent below the downward revised August rate of 585,000 and a 13.2 percent tumble from the 637,000 reported for the same period a year ago.

September represented the worst month since December 2016. The number also was well below the estimate from economists polled by Reuters who were looking for a 1.4 percent drop to 625,000.

The report comes as mortgage rates have been drifting higher, with the most recent average at 4.87 percent, according to Bankrate.com. Housing experts believe a 5 percent average rate could be an inflection point for a market under pressure all year from rising rates.

The Federal Reserve has hiked its benchmark interest rate three times this year, to a target range of 2 percent to 2.25 percent. Mortgage rates have risen in kind.

June and July sales rates were also revised lower. New home sales have now declined for four straight months.

From a geographic standpoint, the South, which is the biggest area for home sales, likely saw some impact from Hurricane Florence. The region reported 318,000 sales for the month, a decline of 1.5 percent. The Northast, which usually has the lowest number of sales, saw its numbers collapse by 40.6 percent to the lowest level since April 2015.

Only the Midwest saw a gain, rising 6.9 percent, while the West declined 12 percent.

A decline in median sales price, from $331,500 a year ago to $320,000 now, provided some hope that the market is moderating enough to provide a bottom.

“Should that become a trend, and should wage growth continue to strengthen, a revitalized new-home-sales market could occur next year,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Posted in Economics, National Real Estate, New Development | 35 Comments

A Manufacturing Comeback?

From NJBiz:

CBRE: 2018 strong year for NJ manufacturing real estate

Boosted by the sale of a Jersey City manufacturing property, the real estate services and investment firm CBRE is forecasting 2018 to be one of the strongest years for New Jersey’s manufacturing real estate market.

Based on third-quarter data, New Jersey is expected to close a total of 49 manufacturing-related real estate transactions by the end of 2018, according to the commercial real estate firm.

That marks a 63 percent leap from four years ago. New Jersey saw 30 such transactions in 2015, 43 in 2016 and 46 in 2017, the report said.

CBRE’s Robert L’Abbate and Thomas Monahan recently closed the $17 million sale of a 93,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Jersey City on behalf of the property’s seller, Elementis Specialties Inc.

“It’s encouraging to see a steady rise in manufacturing transactions over the course of the last several years in New Jersey, with 2018 predicted to follow that same trajectory,” L’Abbate said in a prepared statement. “The Jersey City transaction is the perfect example of how developers can unlock the value of underutilized manufacturing facilities in the tristate area.”

Posted in Economics, Employment, New Jersey Real Estate | 79 Comments