Housing Fish Tanks And The Perfect Wave

Watching surfing videos (my pandemic-inspired hobby even though I don’t do it myself yet grew up on the ocean) are especially soothing to watch (and apparently safer than watching a fish tank):

And even more to see here from Surfline.

But I digress…

Greenwich and Fairfield County Connecticut Boom

The Greenwich market has continued to standout as a robust housing market after 1=fifteen years of tepid market patterns. Our research for Greenwich and Fairfield County, Connecticut are part of our expanding Elliman Report series for Douglas Elliman that I began in 1994.

±350K Bloomberg Terminal subscribers made the story the sixth most read article of the day.

The listing inventory chart was concerning, as is the same situation across much of the U.S. housing market.

Elliman Report: Q1-2021 Greenwich
Elliman Report: Q1-2021 Fairfield County


“Now three quarters past the spring lockdown, heavy sales volume continues to characterize the market.”

– Single family sales volume remained heavy, nearly doubling year over year by the second-highest rate in a decade
– Single family listing inventory continued to plunge, falling annually at the highest rate in more than six years
– Condo sales more than doubled from the prior-year quarter, at the highest rate in nine years
– Average luxury sales size skewed sharply higher year over year for the fourth straight quarter
– Luxury listing inventory fell annually for the eighth consecutive quarter


“Most first-quarter sales in sixteen years and lowest inventory total in twenty-five years.”

– The county saw the highest number of sales for a first quarter in more than sixteen years
– Average and median sales price rose to their third-highest level on record
– Listing inventory fell annually by its fastest rate to its lowest level in more than twenty-five years
– More than one-third of all single family sales closed above the last list price
– The number of condo sales surged year over year at a rising rate for the past three quarters
– Luxury listing inventory fell to its lowest level tracked in our research for the third straight quarter
– Luxury price trend indicators all rose to new records

Podcast: Urban Digs’ Talking Manhattan – Tracking Recovery

I joined my good friends over at Urban Digs, Noah Rosenblatt and John Walkup to talk about the lay of the land in the Manhattan housing market on their Talking Manhattan podcast. Their take on measuring market conditions is always fascinating.

They’ve shared an audio and video version here:

Downtown Boston Is Seeing Heavy Sales Volume

Douglas Elliman published our research for the Downtown Boston market this week and Bisnow Boston does an excellent recap on the state of the market as evidenced by our research.

Elliman Report: Q1-2021 Downtown Boston



“Sales jumped to their highest first-quarter total in sixteen years.”

– The highest number of first quarter sales in thirteen years
– The average sales sized skewed smaller year over year for the fourth straight quarter
– All price trend indicators declined from the prior-year record, skewed low by the shift to smaller sales


“The number of sales surged above year-ago levels, rising for the first time in five quarters.”

– The average sales sized skewed smaller year over year for the fourth straight quarter
– All price trend indicators declined from the prior-year record, skewed lower by the shift to smaller sales
– Listing inventory declined sharply quarter over quarter for the second time coming out of the year-ago market pause

A U.S. Housing Chart Frenzy In The Spring/Summer Issue of Elliman Magazine

I had some fun with the data from a bunch of housing markets we track for Douglas Elliman featured in the latest issue of Elliman Magazine.

Bisnow ‘Make Yourself At Home’ Podcast: How Does A Rental Market Recovery Play Out?

I had a fun discussion with Miriam Hall at Bisnow on the rental market and its future.

Her earlier piece led the way to the discussion: NYC Apartment Owners Seize On Burst Of Activity As Market Stabilizes

Palm Beach Real Estate is ‘Agog’

The absolute best series of words written about the housing market were given to us by Darrell Hofheinz of the Shiny Sheet this week covering the Q1 2021 market report releases. He is tasked articulating the wild Palm Beach housing market. The epic prose is, well, epic…

Words such as “active,” “busy” and even “bustling” just don’t seem to catch the spirit of the barreling price escalation and on-steroids sales activity that has even seasoned real estate observers, well, agog.

Just this week he post two other transactions articles that illuminates the frenzy:

EXCLUSIVE: Palm Beach house flipped for $17.75M, just 6 months after it last sold: MLS

Record setter: First of 4 townhomes brings $26M on old Charley’s Crab site in Palm Beach

Here are a sampling of Palm Beach charts from our market report research. Due to time constraints, I’ll be covering the Florida reports next week here in Housing Notes.

The Battle For Florida Housing Market’s Substantiation Of A Structure Shift Is Becoming More Evident

Like we are seeing in Palm Beach, the balance of the Florida housing market is continuing to see an influx of securities industry titans plant a stake in the high end Florida housing market.

I was quoted in a couple of places about the creation of the largest sized condo penthouse in recent history (22,547 square feet) – Bloomberg and the Miami Herald and Forbes broke the story and the piece chronicles the recent spate of this activity.

Here’s some raw data on the sales above 10,000 square feet (click to epxand).

Last week, the billionaire Larry Ellison acquired an $80 million megamansion in North Palm Beach (though he reportedly plans to tear it down). In February, a partner at Tiger Global Management set a record for Palm Beach, shelling out over $120 million for a beachfront estate. Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer, Keith Rabois of Founders Fund and Playboy mansion owner Daren Metropoulos have also struck deals of late. Not to mention Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who bought a $32.2 million lot on the “Billionaire’s Bunker,” Indian Creek, in December.

The rate of expansion in activity continues to surprise and seems to substantiate the argument that Florida’s housing boom is not a fluke and might very well be a rest to a higher level. I’m not suggesting the current high level of activity is sustainable, but its gone on longer than anyone could have imagined. I said the following in the Miami Herald piece (it’s really LOL to quote myself in a newsletter):

“Zoom is here for the rest of our lives,” Miller said. “So there are going to be residual benefits to cities now. It seems there’s a real effort to diversify Miami’s economy beyond tourism and tax breaks, and the pandemic seems to be the grease that got that wheel going.”

The Real Estate Lexicon: Repositioned

When a listing price is cut, alternative versions of the action of changing the price to a lower price seems to be evolving:

Changed> Cut > Reduced > Improved > Repositioned

The last one in this progression is new to me. The language of real estate marketing evolves.

Appraising Madoff, And Thankfully No Tears Are Shed For Him

It was a bit surprising how little attention was paid to the announcement of Madoff’s death in prison. Good.

His returns were amazingly linear and there were a number of people that kept calling out the ponzi but he was close with regulators.

Because my firm is located in NYC, we’ve ended up doing appraisals in matters related to the post-Madoff tragedy/cleanup. All those people who trusted in him that had their finances destroyed – still hard to process.

In the aftermath, we appraised the properties of his wife, brother, both of his sons (the apartment where one sons committed suicide, and the other who died of cancer). I remember that infamous perp walk and talking to our appraisers about the news. One of our staff mentioned that he had been in the son’s apartment (the one who eventually died of cancer) and the soon to be ex-wife with kids in a luxury apartment telling him to the effect that her husband was an idiot because he was already engaged to his next wife and wasn’t divorced yet.

Every time I saw the Bernie Madoff perp walk after that I thought about that woman and how shocking it must have been to suddenly realize her path in life was instantly changed forever that she could have never forseen. I met Madoff’s brother while inspecting his apartment the day before he went to prison. He was literally saying goodbye to his family on the phone as I walked the apartment. The next day I saw his perp walk in television. It was a surreal experience.

I never appraised one of Bernie’s properties but was brought into the CNN studio to talk about his Manhattan coop and Montauk homes.

The CNN video (which I can’t find online anymore), was surreal too. The U.S. Marshal’s office was selling the property and did a video walk through the Montauk estate (incidentally the Zestimate at that time inflated its value by about double what the home actually sold for). Imagine a U.S. Marshal, wearing a blue raincoat with yellow block letters “U.S. Marshal” on the back, and his gun bulging under the jacket on his right hand side, making sweeping arm movements and using the phrase “understated elegance” twice as he pointed to the living room, and later the antique dresser, in the master bedroom.

When I was about to do a Bloomberg TV interview with Deirdre Bolton (the clip is gone now) on the Bernie Madoff properties in 2009 – the Manhattan market seemed to be a black hole (you get sense of it in my then column for Huffington Post after the September 2008 “Lehman Moment.” I happened to bump into anchor Tom Keene who tweeted:

Getting Graphic

My favorite charts of the week of our own making

My favorite charts of the week made by others

Len Kiefer‘s Chart Handiwork


(For earlier appraisal industry commentary, visit my old clunky REIC site.)

Appraising Madoff, And Thankfully No Tears Are Shed For Him

If you missed it earlier in these Housing Notes, check out my appraiser’s perspective of the tragedy above. We appraised several of the Madoff family’s residential properties in NYC metro.


From Jeremy Bagott, MAI, AI-GRS:

In his new book “The Ichthyologist’s Guide to the Subprime Meltdown,” appraiser and former newspaper editor Jeremy Bagott walks the reader through the smoldering wreckage of a crisis that took the global financial system to the edge of the abyss. He delivers a concise almanac to the debacle that includes essays, chronologies, roundups and key lists.

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket” said the late philosopher Eric Hoffer. Testimony suggests one more nonprofit has become just another personal playpen for a long-tenured chief executive. This time, it’s the National Rifle Association, but Hoffer could have easily been describing the Appraisal Foundation.

Second Amendment advocates have watched in horror over the past few weeks as NRA board members testify at a bankruptcy hearing in Dallas.

“It essentially operates as a kingdom rather than a corporation,” Phillip Journey, a family court judge in Wichita and member of the NRA’s board, described the nonprofit. He called it “Wayne’s Kingdom.”

He was referring to Wayne LaPierre, whose 30-year tenure atop the association is under attack. According to testimony, the 501(c)(4) nonprofit has been used to bankroll a garden of earthly delights for the CEO.

LaPierre himself has already testified for two days about his alleged receipt of gifts that regulators claim represent undisclosed conflicts of interest. LaPierre justified his decision to voyage on Hollywood producer Stanton McKenzie’s 108-foot yacht. He acknowledged taking regular trips to the Bahamas on the vessel for years. He offered rationale for flying exclusively by private charter jet, and he defended his expensing of nearly $300,000 in Italian suits from a Beverly Hills shop.

The nation’s bank appraisers will see parallels with the Appraisal Foundation, an obscure, congressionally authorized Washington, D.C., 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has learned to maximize its publishing proceeds by continually changing its national appraisal standards, its copyrighted Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. The tiny Beltway organization controls a niche publishing monopoly. It is wet-nursed by guaranteed annual federal grants. It has harvested other government funding and even applied for and received PPP relief during the pandemic.

It partners with corporations; representatives of lobbying groups sit on this nonprofit’s board. Its chief executive and favored trustees travel the globe on junkets to places like Paris, London, Rome, Rio and Singapore. In the world’s grand salons and skyline lounges, these global denizens trade jabs and jousts with notables like the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. It’s too weird for fiction.

The 13-employee organization has paid its CEO, a long-tenured, high-profile figure named David Bunton, more than the chairman of the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Secretary combined. Over a recent eight-year period, the tiny nonprofit received $6.5 million in federal grants and parlayed that into $27.6 million in publishing revenue.

According to its 2018 IRS Form 990, the publicly subsidized nonprofit has slowly amassed more than $6 million in cash, savings and publicly traded securities while receiving guaranteed taxpayer grants year after year.

What’s going on with this tiny nonprofit is a four-alarm fire. A profession that helps safeguard trillions in mortgage loans is ultimately at the mercy of a handful of world citizens flush with U.S. government patronage and a license to mint money. Unchallenged power over decades has resulted in hubris and abuse.

Last year, details surfaced that Bunton received internal retirement pay in 2017 on top of his regular CEO pay, effectively more than doubling his reportable compensation to more than $760,000. It would be no one’s business if his nonprofit were not receiving guaranteed federal grants each year and not exercising a monopoly at the expense of a class of citizens.

Breaking: FTC Is Considering A Proposed Consent Agreement

On Wednesday, there was an FTC action that could be a sign this case is coming to a close. For those readers more informed than me, please feel free to share your thoughts.



The Federal Trade Commission filed an administrative complaint against the Louisiana Real Estate Appraisers Board, alleging that the group is unreasonably restraining price competition for appraisal services in Louisiana, contrary to federal antitrust law. The complaint alleges that the appraisal board’s regulations exceeded the scope of the mandate outlined in the Dodd-Frank Act that required appraisal management companies to pay “a rate that is customary and reasonable for appraisal services performed in the market area of the property being appraised.” Specifically, the board required appraisal fees to equal or exceed the median fees identified in survey reports commissioned and published by the board. The board then investigated and sanctioned companies that paid fees below the specified levels.

I’m working on a few things for Appraiserville. Stay tuned – I’m in the middle of market report release season and our appraisal volume is off the charts – hopefully the same for you. In the meantime, you can re-read about the stay and that AEI paper on the wildly elevated state of appraisal waivers. Make sure you think deeply our massively bloated industry bureaucracy that treats our industry like its rocket science and the and rampant self-dealing by leadership that neglected to keep their eye on the ball for more than a decade.

OFT (One Final Thought)

Some things in life are underutilized.

Brilliant Idea #1

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– They’ll be more fish tank averse;
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Brilliant Idea #2

You’re obviously full of insights and ideas as a reader of Housing Notes. I appreciate every email I receive and it helps me craft the next week’s Housing Note.

See you next week.

Jonathan J. Miller, CRP, CRE, Member of RAC
Miller Samuel Inc.
Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants
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