Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Door May Be Closing On N.Y. Housing Boom


The New York Sun

The city's real estate boom is history. But that doesn't mean the doomsayers are right and the bubble is soon to burst. Rather, we're in for a new year that will be characterized by sharply lower housing appreciation, which will be THE big news in the 2005 real estate market.

That is what one of the city's brainiest real estate minds tells me is in store for Big Apple housing next year, following a meteoric rise that has seen city dwellings balloon an average 15.9% a year or rise an aggregate 98.4% from 1999 through the third quarter of 2004.

Our expert is Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel Inc., a leading appraiser of New York real estate. He also conducts well-publicized quarterly surveys on the state of the city's real estate market.

In an interview in which he spelled out his outlook for the 2005 housing market, Mr. Miller observed that "the chief catalyst for the housing boom in recent years - falling mortgage rates - is now behind us." But if you're a would-be buyer, don't be overjoyed, because it will still be a seller's market next year, he predicts, since he expects city housing prices to climb about half of what they did annually over the last five years, or around 5% to 8%.

At the moment, though, Mr. Miller notes, "we're still seeing significant price appreciation because inventories remain tight."

On a year-to-year basis, housing prices during the last five years averaged the following gains: 1999-2000: 46.7%; 2000-2001: 10.3%; 2001-2002: 5.3%; 2002-2003: 8.4%; 2003-third quarter of 2004: 19.4%.

With the recent trio of interest rate hikes and more to come, mortgage rates are headed higher, which will tone down the hot housing market, Mr. Miller said. But a rising economy, more jobs, and tight inventories, he added, will partially offset the higher rates, thus preventing any housing collapse.

A key element of next year's housing scene, observes Mr. Miller, is that the market will no longer run away from the buyer. Another plus for the buyer: Mortgage rates are still at historical lows. And while he sees them going up next year, he doesn't see any sizable rise. He figures the 30-year fixed mortgage, now at around 5.35%, will rise to the mid 6's about a year from now.

However, what's not so great for buyers are current record-high prices. These prices, Mr. Miller said, average a whopping $320,533 for a studio, $548,304 for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,350,698 for two bedrooms, $3,138,690 for three bedrooms, and $6,890,507 for four or more bedrooms.

The bottom line: For the past couple of years now, we've gotten repeated warnings - which have been dead wrong - that the housing market is about to collapse. The Fox cable network, at times with almost weekly scare warnings, has been especially vocal in this respect. If Mr. Miller, is right, Fox should take a year's breather and wait until at least 2006 to resume its dire forecasts.


Throw away the phone: If an enterprising Canadian businessman, 54-year-old John Simmonds, has his way, disposable phones will sweep America. They're currently being produced and sold on a test basis in Florida and Michigan.

There are two battery-operated versions, each of which goes for $39.95, that don't have to be charged. One is a red phone, essentially an emergency phone that only dials 911. It is designed chiefly for the elderly; you might also want to leave one in the glove compartment of your car in case of unexpected problems on the road. There is never a bill. The other phone, blue, is aimed at illegal immigrants (an estimated 14 million people) and people who don't have credit (around 86 million). With this phone, pre-paid phone cards are used to buy 30 or 60 minutes of talk time at a cost of 30 cents a minute. Batteries for the phones run under a buck.

Mr. Simmonds is the CEO of two small Toronto-based companies involved in the disposable-phone venture - Azonic Corp., which manufactures them, and Wireless Age, which distributes them.

As of now, the phones - which, it's said, will last a year or two - are in limited supply. But Mr. Simmonds said he's hopeful of expanding the business into the major American markets and is in talks with a number of major retailers to bring this about, notably 7-Eleven Stores, Target, and Kmart. He also says a major credit company, which he did not identify, is exploring the possibility of buying between 5 million and 10 million units.

As for potential rivals, Mr. Simmonds says "we know of no competition on the planet."


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