This article was in today's paper...thought you would find it interesting...
LAS VEGAS REAL ESTATE: As high-rises grow, sales slow
Buyers spooked by spike in inventory, credit crunch
By JENNIFER ROBISON
It offered such a tidy solution for a land-constrained city: Go vertical, with luxury high-rises to draw in upscale buyers from around the world.
When it began three to four years ago, the push toward towering condominium skyscrapers quickly became one of the hottest real estate trends in Las Vegas, with high-profile names including Ivana Trump, George Clooney and New York's Related Group jumping into the market to invest in, build or brand major projects.
But the same market realities restraining residential construction in Las Vegas have at least temporarily put a ceiling on the city's reach for the skies. Slow sales in the luxury-condominium segment reveal the affluent aren't necessarily immune to dips in the economy, and some analysts predict the high-end condominium scene will be the last real estate submarket to shake off torpor in the housing sector.
Numbers from the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors and research firm SalesTraq show about 820 resale units in high-rise condo towers on the local market the first week in May, with closings in the month between March and April coming in at around 20 units. At that sales rate, it'll take roughly 31/2 years to churn through the high-rise resales on the market. Compare that to the 13 months of supply among all resale homes in the Las Vegas Valley, or the two-month inventory of new single-family and townhome units under construction valleywide.
Realtors and market trackers attribute some of the burgeoning high-rise stockpile to a dwindling buyer base.
Jittery consumers see the number of listings on the market and worry that high-rise condos will lose value, so they hold back on buying, said Bruce Hiatt, co-owner of Luxury Realty Group in Las Vegas.
Other buyers who locked in sales agreements three years ago when the high-rise trend took flight and the broader local market peaked in sales and median prices are walking away at closing today, said Larry Murphy, president of SalesTraq.
"People who bought units on contract in 2005 are aware the market in 2008 is nothing like the market they bought in," Murphy said. "But appraisals are coming in at whatever they agreed to pay on their contract three years ago. People are saying, 'We don't think that appraisal is right, and we don't want to close at that price.' A lot of people have been unwilling or unable to come to the closing table."
Buyers who do close on their units often put them on the market immediately, compounding already-big supplies, said Renee Burrows, a Realtor with Nevada Realty Solutions. Speculators looking to flip condos populate the resale markets.
Plus, the constricted mortgage markets hampering borrowing in suburban residential communities have hurt buyers looking for loans on high-end condos.
Even buyers with excellent credit, cash in the bank and 20 percent down payments aren't having much luck -- banks are quoting them the double-digit interest rates often associated with riskier hard-money loans, Hiatt said. And those kinds of terms, combined with the possibility of sustained falloffs in values, turn off affluent buyers, Murphy said.
Spiking inventory and the credit crunch have generated "the perfect storm" in the high-rise market, Burrows said.
"It's all coming to a pretty sad ending right now," said Murphy of the housing oversupply and the loan shortage.
It's tough to say whether the leap in supply has worked its way into prices, because high-rise closings happen in fits and starts, and that makes for volatile pricing, Murphy said. Median local high-rise prices crested at a high of $4 million in June 2005 and cratered to a low of $410,000 in September 2006. The median in April, the most recent month with available statistics, was $622,000, slightly above the three-year median of $602,000.
It could be years before supplies and prices stabilize, experts said.
That's because homeowners hungry to flip units aren't the only contributors to rising condo supplies.
The 31/2-year stockpile of high-rise resales on the market doesn't include new condos set to come online in the next few months and years.
Las Vegas contains 9,168 completed high-rise units, with an additional 794 condos in presale stages and another 12,497 condos under construction. Yet, the market moved just 4,202 units in the three-plus years between January 2005 and April 2008.
Murphy said he believes the high-rise market will recover last, after primary-home buyers have scooped up the city's relatively smaller stores of single-family resales. The traditional resale sector should begin its resurgence in 2009, followed by the new-homes industry roughly six months later, Murphy predicted. Only then will high-rise sales gain steam, Murphy said.
Hiatt said he expects closings inside pricey new towers on the Strip to push up values and improve buyer interest in high-rises in 2010.
Units at projects such as CityCenter could close for $1,600 to $3,000 per square foot starting next year, when owners begin moving in, he said. That compares with the $400 to $1,000 per square foot today's homes typically cost inside Sky Las Vegas, the only completed residential high-rise with a Strip address.
Plus, rising prices of commodities such as steel, concrete, copper and even land mean bigger replacement values, and those construction costs must figure into future condo prices, Hiatt said. The land under Sky Las Vegas, for example, cost $4 million an acre in 2004. It's worth $34 million an acre today, he said.
"We'll see all future luxury high-rises in that (CityCenter) range because of rising replacement costs," Hiatt said. "There's no way to build these towers for less. You could not build them for today's prices. Everything is going through dramatic price increases. How can we say we need to roll back prices when costs of commodities are skyrocketing?"
Burrows, in the meantime, is counseling her clients -- just one of whom has purchased a resale high-rise unit -- to purchase inside luxury towers only if they plan to hold the property for a while, either as a primary home or a vacation spot.
"Short-term speculative flips have pretty much gotten our market where it is," she said. "To stabilize the market, we need a reversal of everything that's happening now. We need buyers who actually want to live in these products, and we need mortgage-underwriting guidelines to loosen up."
The market will come back. Now is a great time to buy...prices are low right now...lots of inventory to choose from.
For all your Las Vegas high rise real estate needs,
Liberty Realty 702-498-3383