Is this a good time to buy a Jersey Shore beach home?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Shore Points Realty BR# 8340248


This blog post for September 10, 2011 was to a question posed to me the other day asking is this a good time to buy a shore property? Let’s start out with some background by saying I worked with my first real estate company in Atlantic City in the spring of 1985. During that time the market at The Jersey Shore was showing signs of topping out and starting to rollover. The Atlantic City real estate market was being fueled by the massive speculation of gambling and was still on a tear because casinos and investors were still buying the dream. Also in this time period new high rise condos were being brought to market by some out of the area real estate developers that were probably late to the party but were in no position to back out at that point. With major marketing dollars and plenty of effort four residential high rise developments with approximately 1400 condominium apartments were sold and closed from January 1985 until July of 1988. The impact of these properties that entered the market was extraordinary bad. First most of these properties were sold in a vacuum meaning that the prices weren’t really the market they were the prices the developers asked for and got because of the hype. Many of the buyers were from New York or Northern New Jersey and didn’t get sticker shock like their friends from the south in Philadelphia. With the onslaught of closings about 20 to 25% of those properties were put back on the market which by then became a non market.


That short story was the Atlantic City story which had seen the amazing spikes from speculators and casino land grabbing. The casino stocks were flying and many people became multi-millionaires overnight. Let’s get back to the real world for a minute. Other parts of Atlantic County saw much growth from housing and indirect investment in the form of retail and commercial properties to keep up with the growth from the casino engine. Now sleepy Cape May County was feeling some growing pains from the exodus of some Atlantic County residents to Upper Township where the prices didn’t see the same increases and the taxes had not increased much either.


What happened to the other shore communities other than Atlantic City? Of course they went up, but not in the dramatic fashion as A.C. did.


So what happened to make one of the greatest advances in real estate prices fall?  Probably to answer this question two fold, the first was greed. How fitting for the New York metro area and second is the easier answer. A market will eventually top out for what ever reason. There becomes a point in time when there is no one in the marketplace that will buy at those prices are there isn’t anyone left in the marketplace to buy. What happens next? It’s called a correction and it can last a long time or a short time depending on the increase of the advance and the longevity of the advance.


Historians have said that the end of the run up in the late 1980’s was from a few major events. First, the tax reform bill of 1986 which changed the status of rental investment properties that owners now either had passive or active income from their investment properties and then the stock market crash of 1987. These two events were the beginning of the end for the run up, on a financial front and then on a psychological front. This one-two punch put the economy and the real estate market in a correction that lasted until 1995 or 1996 depending on the regional economy.


Let’s go back and try to answer the question. When was the best time to buy shore real estate between 1987 and 1996? Let me point out the real estate market bottomed out 1992, 1993, 1994 which I call the muddy bottom. At that time buyers and sellers were trading deeds and the prices stayed generally fixed except the buyers that were buying the quality pieces made out much better in the long run. If you bought in 1991 did you not get a great price? If you bought in 1995 did you not get a great price?  All I can say in that if you bought in all five of those years you would have doubled or tripled the value of your investment.


Why did the real estate market just decide to go up then? Supply and demand is the usual factor. When the supply dips below the demand the prices will start to increase slowing because there is always addition supply waiting for the prices to increase. When do the prices really start to move? Now we go back to the opposite psychology, because when everyone is buying other people feel more comfortable to buy! Friends and family always try to keep up with the Smiths or Cohen’s.


Don’t many people say the market will never go as high as it did this time? Hell yeah. Most people have a memory problem and it starts as soon as times become comfortable. We hear the economy is better, we hear how wonderful the president is doing and we hear whatever we want to hear.


On a different concept when does the market finally go into hyper mode? This one took my much more time to figure out. Bingo! When the entire back inventory is cleared and the properties that were bought at the top of the market are either sold on the market or not returned the market is when the real estate marketplace has the opportunity to flow. Keep in mind timing, as the prices go up how much new inventory will be a drag on the markets. The quicker this happens the fewer properties will be out there since most of the buyers are holding for at least 3 to 5 years.


Now back to the story at hand. The Cape May County market from 1996 to 2000 was having a steady flow of buyers since the baby boomers were entering the resort second home market. I would say they were seeing a 5 or 6 percent increase year over year. Not bad right? The market was just plugging along until the first bump in the road and didn’t turn into a speed bump but a catalyst. The stock market had a nasty correction what was called the internet bubble. If you remember what happened, investors were back to buying stock in companies that never made money. Some people forget or it’s just a new generation of people that don’t know better. So what are people to do now? I got it! Let go back to buying bricks and sticks since they are way less volatile. Right? Well guess what happened next? Like it was yesterday, the World Trade Center came down on September 11, 2001. If you weren’t freaking out you must have been on the moon! For six months the whole country was in shock and many people had a new idea about life. Live for the day and enjoy the time you have with your family because we never know when life could be cut short. Seeing all of those young people in the twin towers and in the financial district it was so unspeakable and this brought on the next wave in my opinion.


One last flashback to 2003, I end up working as the President and general manager of The Landis Co., Realtors in Sea Isle City.  At the time I started having conversations with Jim Sofroney the Broker/ Owner of the firm who had been in the real estate business for 30 plus years. Our conversations were how to manage the risk for our clients since we managed 1000 rental properties and wanted to give the owners our best interpretation of the market twice a year. We were starting to feel a little concerned about the increase in prices already. By the end of the summer of 2003 the prices were holding and the inventory was not increasing and the economy was getting traction.


So where am I going with this story? If you aren’t familiar with the real estate market in Cape May County we have two strong buying seasons, the spring which would consist of February, March, April and May. Then our Fall season would be the end of August, September and October. When we hit the fall season of 2003 the prices were increasing at 1% to 2% per month. Everyone thought this was great, so we saw people that shouldn’t have been in the investor market or people were buying multiple properties at these scorching numbers. The prices were being driven up by the speculation from the builders and developers that were buying land and buildings to turn into townhouses and condos. The more buyers bought the more their friends and family wanted to buy. Human nature at its worst, the greed factor or the let’s keep up with the Jones’ syndrome was at work. We didn’t see this market not being able to digest the entire inventory until the fall of 2005 when things started to roll over. Prices didn’t go up or go down, so the premise was we were beginning to stabilize. That made sense since all we were doing was taking a breather from that frantic period. Right? No! Wrong the real estate markets were exhausted and the developers were still building which was putting even more pressure on the markets that the inventory was peaking out because many of the buyers were planning on flipping their property at the same time the builders were dropping their prices to meet the slowing market.


It became apparent that the real estate markets when the land costs dropped 35 to 40%. The most improved part of the market became the worst place to be. The lot costs probably came back to a reasonable price point but the actual condos and townhouses haven’t dropped that much. Over the last five to six years we watched the prices drift anywhere from 25% to 50% from the ultimate time depending on the town or property type which you might be researching.


Prices were drifting lower at a snail pace until the bad boys of the banking community decided to do lots of bad thing. Well let us say did. Knowingly selling bond portfolios of loans that were to have little or no equity to Main St and sell them as CMO’s (Collateralize Mortgage Obligations). Boy doesn’t that sound warm and fuzzy sitting in your brokerage portfolio? Guess what the executives decided to they owned a bunch of this stuff themselves and tried to figure out a way to cover their bet with derivatives (a financial product like an option to play the other side of the bonds). Well who do you call to help with this mess since this is a new fangled problem? Let’s drag the insurance companies in since they understand derivatives and insurance programs. They will come up with a solution so they thought. The first big insurance company that took a hit was AIG. AIG was probably the biggest insurance company at the time and now running as a few smaller companies. This brought on one of the worst financial crisis ever to hit the United States. The Financial bailout of 2009 was also the biggest blunder since the following year the banks and financial firms that we bailed out had the largest profits in history.


As the prices kept falling and more and more property owners were underwater by 2009 and 2010 it seemed that a lot of the investors were throwing in the towel after getting professional advice from either lawyers or accountants.


The outcome from the professionals was three basic ideas; hold the property for as long as you can. Rent it out, use it, sell it were their choices on scenario one. Then the tough stuff the lawyers would be involved with. If you can sell the property at a price less than the amount you owe the bank we can get you out of the property with out you losing the property in foreclosure. Its easy to do because the banks don’t want to the real estate back and it will even be a longer time before they get it back and if the markets drop further, lets do the deal now and move on to the next one. Back in the early 1990’s most professionals called this a “cram down”. It was a verb since it was being crammed down the banks thought. Today the term is a Short Sale. Aw, isn’t that nice? Since the bank is letting property owners do these they aren’t the victim they are getting what they want. Less bank owned properties and much less legal fees make it a win-win for both parties. The last is the do nothing and enjoy the property and when the bank finally takes the house just get there before and get your personal items out. This process could take anywhere from six months to 18 months depending on the financial ability of the owner and the type of property.


Let’s fast forward back to today September 10, 2011 the day before the tenth anniversary of 9.11.2001. For some reason we are still not comfortable with the local real estate market. We still not have a crystal ball and we are only past history to project the next one or two years out. Why do we even care? I’m not really sure but my blog essay is to show you that history does repeat itself and that where we are today is must closer to the bottom then we are to the top.


Let’s explore these simple questions that people like you might be asking;


Is this a good time to upgrade into a larger shore property?  The first question I would ask is how much equity do you have in your current property? The difference between the realistic values of the property and any loan or debt amount attached to the property would be your equity amount. This has nothing to do with any profit or loss you might have experienced. Either way we are looking at a snapshot of today to decide our next move. Psychologically no one likes to take less on an investment but that is irrelevant in deciding to upgrade into a bigger or better property. In the long run the objective is to leverage to down market to your advantage by buying the more expensive property now. On a percentage basic if all things were equal the dollar lose would be substantially more on the larger property than the small property.


As long as you have 20% for your new down payment from funds from the old property or new funds the transition is a go. This is how people with money have been upgrading all the way to the beachfronts or bay fronts. You can’t imagine how many people have asked me “how did those people buy on the beach?” In most cases it was their second or third property at the beach. If you have additional questions about this awesome timing opportunities please email me or call to discuss.


Is this a good time to invest in a Shore home? Yes is the answer. If you are like most people who are trying to catch the bottom of this cycle well we are in it right now. I would consider being within a 10% margin of the top or the bottom as a good reference point. Why do I say that? No one has a crystal ball from what I been told. Then all we can do is our very best to identify the bottom. First of all I like to call this next two years as the muddy bottom. Properties will come up and be sold at similar prices in the period of time. This is where an experienced real estate broker will come in handy. What was the first thing you were told about real estate? The three most important components to buying real estate are location, location and location. Then I heard the experts say buy the smallest home in the best neighborhood. So my final word of advice when buying in the soft market is do not let the price be your guide. Still buy the best piece of property you can comfortably afford and jump in enjoy The Jersey Shore with your family and friends because that’s what me and my fellow Realtors are really selling. This is the greatest opportunity to enjoy the nature and the shore lifestyle for you and the most important people in your life.


So go out there and don’t get caught up in the greed of vacation property ownership and do what millions of people have done for generations. Live The Jersey Shore lifestyle. Namaste ~ Ian 


Ian Lazarus

The Jersey Shore Expert


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From the beautiful beaches of the Jersey Shore to Florida , I serve discerning home buyers and sellers. If you are moving anywhere in the United States contact me for a member of my Real Estate network that I would used myself if I was making a move. Ian Lazarus

Sea Isle City, NJ - Avalon, NJ - Stone Harbor, NJ - Outer Banks, NC 


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