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On Condos and Condo Marketers

There’s an amusing article over at Seattlest on the strange proclivity that Seattle P-I reporter Aubrey Cohen has for quoting the marketing firm Williams Marketing:

Did you know that there’s only one credible real-estate industry voice in Seattle? It’s a marketing firm in town that works with real estate developers. We’ve learned this from reading Aubrey Cohen’s real estate reporting in the Seattle P-I. Here’s a search on articles containing the exact phrase “Williams Marketing” — they’re quoted in at least one article per month since last November. (Who are the schmoes paying the P-I for ads when there’s so much free ink available?)

A “Seattle marketing firm that works with condo developers” seems to be the autotext descriptor. We get all of our most trusted information from marketing sources, so we understand Cohen’s willingness to dive into that well for quotes so many times.

Speaking of Williams marketing, Matt at Urbnlivn calls them (and Aubrey Cohen) out yet again on the “we aren’t lowering our prices” lie:

Well today Williams Marketing priced reduced Mosler Lofts unit #TH2 $20,000 to $655,000.

Seattle reporters, please do your homework. You’re paid to report; this is my hobby.

And as long as we’re on the subject, here’s the latest piece of condo marketing reporting from the P-I:

The national real estate hangover spooked some Seattle buyers and the national lenders who fund condo projects, leading developers to shelve building plans. Others, however, insist the Seattle market will hold up.

For example 83 percent of the more than 1,200 new downtown condo units that came on line in 2007 sold. All of the more than 1,400 downtown units built from 2000 through 2006 have sold, according to market research firm Realogics.

And the amount of building pales in comparison with cities like Miami, which had 60,000 condos in the development process at the peak of its boom and where people bought condos site-unseen with no intention of living in them, said Bryon Ziegler, developer representative for Williams Marketing, a Seattle company that works with developers. “We never even remotely had that kind of market in this area,” he said. “We’ve got real jobs here supporting our growth.”

But there was some evidence of a speculative frenzy in downtown Seattle in the past year, when investors in the newly completed 2200 Westlake and Cosmopolitan condo projects bought about one-third of the units in those two buildings, then immediately put them up for sale, said Dean Jones, president and chief executive of Realogics, another Seattle condo marketing firm.

But don’t worry everybody. Now there’s a “cap” on the amount of units that they’ll sell to “investors.” Wait, why would a developer care whether the person buying their condo is an “investor” or not? Isn’t it money on their books either way?

Unless a huge amount of these projects in the pipeline fail to break ground, I don’t see any compelling reason to believe that we won’t have an extreme glut of condo inventory in a few years. But hey what do I know. I’m not a “condo marketer” after all.

Here’s Matt Goyer’s take on the piece.

(Michael van Baker, Seattlest, 10.22.2007)
(Matt Goyer, Urbnlivn, 10.21.2007)
(Aubrey Cohen, Seattle P-I, 10.21.2007)

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.

24 comments:

  1. 1
    AndyMiami says:

    from WSJ today:

    A county in Washington state emerged as the most recent casualty from the financial-market turmoil caused by complex securities known as SIVs when Standard & Poor’s Corp. said yesterday it may downgrade debt of King County because of investments in debt issued by SIVs.

    In addition, late last week Wachovia Corp. revealed that it had booked a $40 million loss on asset-backed securities that it purchased from the portfolio of money-market funds run by its Evergreen Investments money-management unit in August.

    The rating action by S&P stemmed from investments made by the $4.1 billion King County Investment Pool in three struggling SIVs, which currently total about 3.8% of the fund. S&P said the fund held securities issued by Cheyne Finance LLC, Rhinebridge LLC and Mainsail II LLC. King County includes the city of Seattle.

  2. 2
    Eric Arrrrr says:

    re. your question, “Why would a developer care whether the person buying their condo is an “investor” or not? Isn’t it money on their books either way?”

    The reason is, developers hate competing with their own customers to sell units. There’s an increasing number of distressed investor-buyers who are placing downward price pressure on developers. As a result, developers are trying to retain control of all that excess supply by turning investors away.

    To wit, check out this entertaining post over at Fast Times.

  3. 3
    laxtosnoco says:

    This is unbelievable. I’ve gotta believe the first thing they teach you in County Money Management 101 is the Orange County case.

    Ken Guy, King County’s finance director, said “That is the frustrating aspect about all this: you have these highly rated investments that have been downgraded simply overnight,”

    Wait, ‘structured’ investments can get downgraded? But these nice investment bankers took me out for a 3 martini lunch and had these cool PowerPoints showing how awesome theses investments were! They didn’t use the D-word (derivatives) once!

  4. 4

    CONDO INVENTORY WAY UP, APARTMENT CONVERSIONS FOLLOW

    Its slam dunk bloggers. It throws out the sky is falling argument that rents must go up after a housing bubble pops, with plenty of buyers on the sidelines with masses of cash and most with scientific degrees, like PhDs and Masters Degrees.

    I’m smiling now, what is the savings rate in Washington State? -2%?

    Large Seattle Wages?

    I’m confused, here’s a portion of the news on SPEEA’s 3 year contract for its highly skilled and educated Boeing workforce for 11/05-11/08:

    “…SPEEA started main table talks with Boeing on Nov. 1 to negotiate new contracts for 12,096 engineers in the Professional Unit and 5,672 technical workers in the Technical Unit. The employees work at Boeing facilities throughout the Puget Sound region, Oregon, Utah and California. The two contracts expire Dec. 1. A third SPEEA bargaining unit in Wichita, Kansas opened main table talks Nov. 8 for a contract covering 785 engineers. The Wichita contract expires Dec. 5.

    The offer for the Professional unit creates salary increase pools of 7 percent, which includes a 0.5 percent promotional fund and a 1.5 percent guaranteed wage increase. The offer for Technical employees creates salary increase pools of 4 percent, which includes a 0.5 percent promotional fund and a guaranteed wage increase of 2 percent…”

    Geeeee. does that mean they get like 1.5-2% for 3 years???? Hades, eggs went up 44% alone, let alone filling up the SUV [I liked that ECON101’s SIV joke too]. Hey, 1/3 of Boeing’s high tech is like Bill Gates too, no degree.

    Boy, the pay is great in Seattle, let’s go out and buy a $450K home?

  5. 5
    EconE says:

    Goyer seems to think that the condo market is balanced.

    He posts those charts showing the % of units sold although he fails to take into account units that were sold to flippers and need to be RESOLD.

    He should do a post on absorption rates of the condos downtown…the real absorption rates as the info that he’s putting out is just like the MSM used to be.

    Oh…wait…now I understand…he’s holding an extra condo that will never cash flow.

  6. 6
    Matt Goyer says:

    Sadly I have a time and energy sucking day job (at a real estate brokerage firm, gasp!) which prevents me from doing deeper analysis than the journalists paid to report on such things. I’m not against doing deeper analysis, it’s not like I’m not doing it because I own two condos and afraid what I’ll find, it’s simply because I’m swamped at work. If anyone else would like to do the analysis I’d be happy to validate and post on my site.

  7. 7
    B&W NIkes says:

    Yup – how many of those units are up or coming up for sale during the same time as new construction doubles the size of the pie? It’s a nice bit of PI spin in there repeating the mantra that “Seattle is not like Miami.” Not only does it compare all construction in the much larger city of Miami to what appears to be a few blocks of Seattle, it totally glides over their own assessment that the same number of condos were built in a small area of Seattle in one year as were during the last five years, and in the next 3 years there will be more than twice again as many new units built the same downtown area. I don’t think even the Magic City increased their inventory quite that fast, in relative numbers.

  8. 8
    TheDexter says:

    Miami is quite a bit larger than Seattle. We don’t have the populations numbers. Regardless, a cap is needed not only to protect the owners investment but make sure the building doesn’t end up skewed with renters.

  9. 9
    uptown says:

    OK let’s be honest here, how many of you think that any developer will be first to stop their project, so there won’t be a glut on the market?

    -My vote is that they will all keep going until the financing is yanked from under them.

    ——–
    Loved the way the P-I article focused on downtown condos, cause we all know they aren’t building condos anywhere else in the city or burbs.

  10. 10
    rose-colored-ghoulaid says:

    Uptown,

    Good call. Let’s say you’re scheduled to be first out of the gates. What do you do? Finish of course, no glut yet. What if you are in the middle of the pack? Speed up your development so you sell before the glut!

    What if you are at the end? If you have less sunk costs than you expect to lose by selling into a glutted market, then you stop. More likely, you slow down and hope the glut clears before you finish development.

    ———————————————-

    softwareengineer, you are misunderstanding the SPEEA contract. Typically a 4% raise is average every year, with a minimum raise of 2% annual. Still less than inflation on eggs, but not unreasonable.

  11. 11
    Garth says:

    B&W NIkes,

    Miami Dade County is ~2.5 million people with a median income household income of $35,966 and 18% of the population below the poverty line, King County is ~2 million people with a median household income $53,157 and 8.40% of the population below the poverty line.

    There are currently over 25,000 (a 36 month supply) condos LISTED in Miami and 20,000 more still being built, how can you possibly compare that to the ~3500 condos listed currently in king county?

    I think condos are a bad deal in general, but the condo building here is not even comparable to Miami.

  12. 12
    CCG says:

    “I’ve gotta believe the first thing they teach you in County Money Management 101 is the Orange County case.”

    To the contrary. The last thing you want when running a Ponzi scam is for people to start learning the lessons of history. The bulls can’t even remember the dot com bubble. Orange County? What’s that?

  13. 13
    Chris says:

    the condo glut in Miami was never predciated on local demand, so that comparison is not of much value. So, no, its not comparable to Miami, but that doesn’t mean its not overbuilt based on a different set of demand dynamics. Only so many people is the region will to pay 500k for a one bedroom condo, and I think the current pipeline exceeds that demand currently

  14. 14
    B&W NIkes says:

    G&C -you said it. I am more curious to know why the PI is comparing Seattle to Miami just in order to say we don’t have anything to pay attention to here. It’s a low level Jedi mind trick. The Miami metro area has a population about equal to the entire state of Washington while Florida has nearly 3 times as many people as Washington. When you add that with a proximity to the North American Megalopoli (sp?) that we can’t claim, (along with other obvious geographic and cultural differences) I have to pretty much agree when someone uses Miami as an illustration of what we aren’t. For the sake of what I was pointing out, let’s lean heavily on that ‘relative’ thing and agree that by the percentages both areas are doubling their current inventory at a time when the existing inventory will last years. In that small similarity we may share a parallel fate.

    My dad used to say, “comparing yourself to the worst of the bunch isn’t a very good way to figure out if you are doing your best.”

  15. 15
    Steve-o says:

    softwareengineer,

    From what you say, it sounds like for engineers the average raise the first year will be 7%. The average raise the second year will be an additional 7%. The average raise the second year will be 7%. After three years that adds up to a 22.5% for the average engineer. I think that is pretty damn good! Of course there’s no contract yet, so……

  16. 16
    deejayoh says:

    The issue I see here is that the market absorbed roughly 100 new units per year between 2000 and 2006. This year, it has absorbed “83%” of the ~1,250 units added – most of which were probably presold in 2005-06.

    Now we are adding ~1,500 units per year for the next four years. This is unprecedented, when in the “hot” years of 2004-06 we sold out less than 10% of this volume.

    So what happens? Inventory is already growing. MLS shows 190 “new construction” units in the downtown area, out of 380 total listings. The reality is there are many, many more pocket listings. and these are mostly high-end units – so while median prices are sure to keep climbing, the true story of price pressure will probably not be immediately evident – but it’s likely to be there.

  17. 17
    Garth says:

    deejayoh,

    I don’t understand where their “new downtown condos” data came from.

    If you look at the King County budget reports here:

    http://www.metrokc.gov/budget/agr/index.htm

    They show 2004 and 2005 being substantial lower in the new residential units report than previous years back to 1999. For example 6536 new residential units were created in seattle in 2000, while 2005 saw only 3670.

  18. 18
    deejayoh says:

    Garth –
    Good point. I should have been more skeptical! I looked back at the graphic. the source is “Realogics”. Who is Realogics, you might ask – perhaps a economic consultant? Check out their web site

    Realogics is the recognized dream team that supports developers and their lenders for the disposition of high-profile, high-value condominum and mixed-use buildings in the city. As a single point of service, Realogics provides market research, product development, marketing and sales solutions from inception to completion. Throughout every stage, we work closely with our clients as their marketing partner to create exceptional properties and maximize sales potential.

    Oh. A competitor to Williams Marketing, in other words.

    FWIW, I interpreted “downtown” to be area 701. But the data appears to be very suspect.

  19. 19
    B&W Nikes says:

    “Quite simply, there is no housing bubble in Seattle.”
    “Seattle is anticipated to experience one of the highest rates of appreciation over the next decade, estimated at 59.2% by 2016.” – Realogic.com

  20. 20
    disbelief says:

    To the above, please add:

    * Information has been obtained from sources deemed reliable and cannot be guaranteed. Sources credited online. E&OE.

  21. 21
    Amy M says:

    Have you seen the latest news:
    Merrill Lynch wrote down a record 7.9 billion on bad mortgages

    http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/Dispatch/071024markets.aspx

    Sept existing home sales fell to a record low:
    http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/provider/providerarticle.aspx?feed=OBR&Date=20071024&ID=7688185

  22. 22
    Boeing engineer says:

    Neither number on the speea contract is correct. Each year of the contract has a 4% pool for raises. However the first year there was an additional 2.5% Market adjustment fund for a total of 6 1/2%. In thoery, Boeing was to review the market each following year to provide additional funds if they thought the pay scale was below “market”. So the second year had a very small increase but only in a couple of job catagories – the rest of us got the 4% pool. the same will likely happen next year.

  23. 23

    […] Williams Marketing… now where have we heard that name before… Oh yeah, only in about every P-I real estate article, that’s where. So, the Washington Center for Real Estate “Research” is teaming up […]

  24. 24

    […] the south side of Queen Anne. According to public records The Leona, which is being marketed by the ever-bullish Williams Marketing, has sold a whopping three of their eighteen units to […]

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