A Matter of Time and Pain

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2008

When our writer, Cooper Levey-Baker, reported in our cover story that real estate vultures are beginning to circle the region, looking to buy blocks of distressed properties, I wondered if this is the beginning of yet another speculative real estate market. The only difference this time is that many of these vulture buyers are hedge funds and institutional investors rather than the individual looking to flip a property for a quick profit. If that’s the case, won’t we eventually get yet another artificial run up in property values that began five years ago?

Jack McCabe of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach, who is consulting for some of these buyers, says it’s not quite the same this time around.

Vulture buyers (McCabe prefers to call them opportunistic buyers) will be buying at such discounted rates—often at less than 50 cents on the dollar—that even when they put these properties back on the market they’ll still be offered at considerably lower prices than we saw during the boom. And because opportunistic buyers invest with the idea of making 18 percent to 20 percent on their purchases, they could be holding onto these properties for seven years before they put them back on the market. “This is not a quick flip,” says McCabe.

The good side of vultures, he adds, is that they’re a harbinger of the bottom of the market. Once other investors see large-scale investors making these acquisitions, they feel safe to buy real estate as well.

“They bring to an end the slow sale atmosphere and bring a positive perception to the marketplace,” McCabe says. “People will believe in them more than the realtors who every quarter say we’ve hit the bottom. Realtors have been saying that for two-and-a-half years now.”

Meanwhile, expect more turmoil in the real estate and financial markets. McCabe predicts many more foreclosures in the region (Lakewood Ranch, downtown condos, any area where there’s a lot of finished inventory will be mini hubs for this activity) and local fallout from the mortgage fraud scandal. “You’ll be surprised by the amount and the players,” he says.

Then McCabe, who’s often accused of being a doom-and-gloom analyst, let a little light shine through. Sarasota, he says, has worldwide recognition. “It’s considered one of the upper-end markets in all of Florida, and Florida is on the international forefront. I’m the biggest bull there is in Florida real estate, but not at these prices. There is a market that’s waiting for prices to come down so they can start buying.” As soon as sellers’ and buyers’ senses of value come closer together, we’ll see the deals start to accelerate.

“It’s only a matter of time and pain before the disconnect narrows,” McCabe says.

In the meantime, he adds, we still have sunshine and our beautiful winters.

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