Update on MGM Signature Towers

The last time I reported on the MGM Signature Towers was in late April when new low comps were established for both Studio and 1 Bedroom units at the close of the MGM auction. I wanted to take a moment to update my readers as prices continue to drop on these properties here in Las Vegas.

I have been following the MGM Signature Towers project since its inception in 2003 and 2004 and have stayed as far away as possible until recently as purchasing made no sense from a cash flow perspective. But as you know, things change quickly in Las Vegas and this investment is beginning to look a lot more lucrative. I will explain.

If you are unfamiliar with the hotel condo concept, it is quite simply explained as follows: You the investor buy and own the actual condo with all of its luxury furnishings, and the condo is put into a rental program and managed by a management company (in this case as part of the MGM Hotel and Casino). There are a lot of calculations that lead to how much revenue owners will make (or not make) from their condo hotel but a reasonably accurate estimate in the case of the Signature Towers would call for the owner to end up with about 40% of the gross revenues from the rental of the room. In simple math, if a condo hotel room is rented for $100 per night, the owner will net about $40.

Of course there are some perks to ownership of the unit as the owner can use it themselves (with a reservation) or the room does not have to be in the rental program at all. If someone wished to live in their luxury condo unit they could choose to do so. The home owner’s association fees are quite high, at near $400 for the studio unit and $900 for the one bedroom unit. These fees pay for the luxury resort amenities which are separate from, yet still attached to, the MGM Hotel. The Signature Towers resort features two exercise rooms, valet parking, guest services, coffee shop, lounge, deli, several pools, high speed internet service throughout and a gift shop.

The hotel condo project was sold in three stages with tower 1 (145 East Harmon) completed in 2005. This building is closest to the MGM hotel and was the first building of the three to be finished. Units in this building sold for between $300,000 to $600,000 for the smaller studio units (520 square feet) and $500,000 to $1,000,000 for the 1 bedroom units. The second tower was the 135 East Harmon tower which was completed in 2006. Studio units sold for a little higher, in the $400,000 to $700,000 range, and 1 bedroom units remained the same at $500,000 to $1,000,000. The last tower to be built, 125 East Harmon, sold for even higher prices. It was completed in 2006 with studio units selling for $500,000 to $800,000 and 1 bedroom units fetching prices from $700,000 to over $1 million.

Note that because tower one was sold at lower prices there have been less foreclosures coming on the market from this tower (145). As investors grossly overpaid for units in all buildings, but especially buildings two and three, we are now seeing a high rate of foreclosures begin to hit the market. I believe that as early investors begin to see how far upside down they are we may see even more people letting their units go as their equity or perceived equity is non-existent.

Over the last year there have been 92 re-sales as a combined total from all three buildings. As of April 2009 the lowest priced 1 bedroom unit had sold for $274,000 and the lowest priced studio unit had sold for $174,000. This was, of course, well below the original sales prices of just a few years earlier. Then in late April of this year, an auction took place at the MGM and 20 units were sold off in about 2 hours time. I reported on this auction in my blog as a new low of $202,000 for one bedrooms and $160,000 for studios were established.
It was about this time that I stepped in and began to educate my database of investors about these units as I could see that the prices were beginning to move closer to the point where they could hit bottom and actually begin to make sense as an investment for those looking to keep them in the rental program.

When looking at units from these high rise towers, each investor will want to be concerned with the price of the unit, its “rentability” potential, the profitability of the investment, and the future appreciation potential of the property.

I have identified 7 items that have a direct effect on these factors. These 7 items include the following:

1. Odd/Even address numbers: Odd = strip side views and Even = mountain views.
2. One bedroom unit (874 or 847 sq. ft) or studio unit (520 square feet)?
3. Handicapped unit or regular unit?
4. Does the unit have a balcony or not?
5. Is the unit located on a high floor or a low floor?
6. How is the View (strip/mountain/airport/pool)?
7. Is it a penthouse floor (29 to 33)? (Comes with a higher ceiling.)

Since April I have been working with several investors and fighting to get the lowest price possible for them on the units they are looking to take down. All this hard work paid o this past Friday the 17th as one of my investors closed on a lower oor studio unit at only $99,000. This new low blew away the previous low comp of $140,000 for a studio from only a couple of months back.

The very next day, Saturday July 18th, I attended the second auction for the MGM Signature Towers with cashiers check in hand ready to pounce on a 1 bedroom unit for another client. And as I predicted, a new low was achieved when the 1 bedroom sold at auction for $180,000 ($22,000 less than the previous low). The unit was in tower 1 ( first building), 7th floor, with a balcony and a nice pool view on the mountain side (even number). The unit sold originally for $540,000 and made for a nice deal at 33 cents on the dollar from the original high. This lower comp should help motivate the banks to continue pushing prices down into a range that will produce more investors traffic as people look to scarf up these luxurious condo hotels.

As of this writing, there are 155 units listed for sale in the entire MGM Signature Towers project. There are only 22 that are REO/bank owned foreclosures and 68 short sales. The remaining 65 units listed for sale are upside down owners who will not be able to resell their units at their asking prices for many, many years.

Anyone seriously interested in taking down a unit at today’s new lower prices should contact me as soon as possible as inventory is very light at this time. I am not sure how low the prices will go but I truly believe a studio at $100k and a one bedroom unit at $150k are very good deals.

This Friday the 24th of July there will be a third (silent) auction that will be taking place on 10 units at the MGM Signature Towers. You must be registered in advance in order to bid online. The highest bidder’s o er will be presented to the bank. If the bank accepts the bid, you will get the condo at your winning bid price. If the minimum (unpublished reserve bid) is not met, the deal will be renegotiated or you can walk away. There is no earnest money required for the silent auction. Call or email me for details to register.

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False Bottoms — Or When the Tail Wags the Dog

For the last 18 months real estate investors, market analysts and other experts have speculated as to when the long awaited bottom for the beleaguered real estate market would finally arrive. Rather than offering guesses as to how long the down market would last, I have tried to focus on identifying the signs of a bottom approaching, so that myself and my investors would be able to identify this buying opportunity as it arrived.

If you have followed my articles and blog posts, you have noted that I consistently advocate using a three step process to identify the coming of the real estate market “bottom” and the possible beginnings of a recovery. This process involves analyzing three sets of variables: First, the standing inventory of homes for sale; second, the volume of existing home sales; and third, the median home price for a particular area. A few weeks ago, I confidently announced the arrival of the real estate market “bottom” in my local area: Las Vegas. I cited as evidence for this claim data from each of the three areas listed above.

First, the inventory of available single family homes in Las Vegas has decreased rapidly in the last few months after remaining relatively stable at around 22,000 homes through much of 2008. This inventory is now at a level of just under 12,000 homes. Inventory is nearly ½ of its 2008 levels. Homes under $200,000 have less than 4 months standing inventory. Homes under $100,000 have less than 3 months inventory. A normal healthy inventory is considered a 6 month supply of homes. This decrease in standing inventory was our first indicator that the Las Vegas real estate market was bottoming.

Second, the volume of existing home sales has exploded in Las Vegas in the last few months. In fact, sales of residential homes reached record highs in June. According to data published by the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, sales of single-family homes and condos rose 87 percent in June from a year ago…to a total of 4,702 sales. This total breaks the previous record high set in June of 2004, during the peak of the housing bubble.

Finally, we must also consider median home prices, which after falling for over a year and a half in the Las Vegas valley have finally stabilized near $140K in the last three months.

I used all of this data to arrive at the conclusion that we have hit bottom in Las Vegas (and many other areas of the country as well.) And I stand by that assertion. However, unfortunately for many American home owners, we are beginning to witness the fact that real estate markets may create bubbles, but they don’t operate within them.

Two years ago, home prices cooled across the United States and as the real estate bubble began to burst it triggered the freezing of the credit markets, which in turn brought on the greatest recession this country has seen since the Great Depression. Since then, the general economic downturn has rolled on independently of the struggling housing markets. It has grown to encompass the stock market, the job market, the banking industry, and all other major economic areas. All the while, there has been no doubt that the catalyst which provoked this whole mess was the rapid decline of housing prices, accelerating foreclosures, bad loans and the accompanying problems surrounding the burst of the real estate bubble. Unfortunately, the cause cannot now bring the remedy.

In fact, the general economic malaise now threatens, in fact almost promises, to thwart the recovery of the housing market. Economists warn that rising unemployment rates will bring a fresh round of foreclosures as home owners, even those not burdened by questionable loans or upside down property values, lose the ability to stay in their homes. Also, to spite consistently low interest rates and government incentive programs for new home buyers, banks still seem reluctant to loan money. Instead of thawing, credit markets continue to tighten in many areas as banks raise rates and cut limits on unsecured credit lines and charge cards…even to good customers with perfect payment records.

These factors conspire to throw a bucket of cold water on the hot housing market that we are now observing. As the economy continues to decline, I would not be surprised to see our newly found real estate bottom begin to give way once again. Although I do not think that we will see declines that come anywhere close to the plummeting prices of a year ago, I do believe that rising unemployment and the continuing credit crunch may prompt home prices to begin another, more gradual, downward slide.

This doesn’t mean that the current market is not still a great time for investors to begin loading up on properties. Cash flow is always king when it comes to real estate investments, and the cash flow opportunities in Las Vegas and across the country are more promising than they have been in decades. But, as always, investors should proceed with caution and look to purchase for the long term. Naked appreciation plays are risky under the best of conditions, and they have no place what-so-ever in a volatile market such as this.

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Richard Lee Visits Las Vegas Real Estate Insider Club

The Las Vegas Real Estate Insider Club was pleased to host Richard Lee at our last meeting June 12th. Formally, Lee is Vice President, Public Relations Director, and a real estate consultant for First American Title Company of Nevada. But since 1989, Lee has also been the “go-to guy” for the Las Vegas community when it comes to development and growth. Developers, business owners, real estate investors and gaming companies rely on his insight for investment, lending and acquisitions. Simply put, Richard reduces a tidal wave of information into entrepreneurial opportunities.

At the meeting Richard spoke to the club on a wide variety of topics relating to real estate, the Las Vegas market in particular and the economy as a whole. He presented background information about what created this current economic crisis including insight into the sub-prime market, how notes are bought, debt is defused and property redistributed. And, although we may definitely be nearing the “bottom” of the real estate slide in Las Vegas, Richard explained how a factor called “Appraisal Drift” or “BPO Drift” may cause a continued downward slide in pricing of 1-2% over the next 12 months.

Richard offered his opinion, however, that Las Vegas is still a great place to purchase investment properties. He believes that jobs drive everything in local real estate economies by creating stability and growth. With sun, entertainment, great food and (now) housing prices below the curve, the outlook for the Las Vegas economy is strengthening. He also mentioned the fact that California may eventually approach a 60% total tax rate and, as a result, Las Vegas will continue to see population growth from those moving in from the west coast as well as baby boomers leaving other parts of the country.

Richard Lee also discussed an interesting phenomenon that is currently developing in Las Vegas real estate. As investors recognize the great buying opportunities that exist and rush to purchase properties at new, low prices…a certain “auction mentality” has begun to develop. Potential purchasers are finding themselves in multiple offer situations with properties selling above asking price. Those feeling that they have to get in now to avoid missing the boat are creating a dangerous over-bidding situation that could result in a second real estate bubble of sorts for the Las Vegas Valley.

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The Las Vegas Real Estate Market Bottom is Here!

The moment we have all been waiting for…for the past two years…has finally arrived! You will not hear about this on the national news…yet…because the news sources are always well behind when reporting trends. You will hear it from me: a full time investor and “on the street” veteran agent that is seeing firsthand a dramatic change in the face of Las Vegas real estate.
I am here to announce that the bottom of the Las Vegas housing market is here. Let me explain why I believe this to be the case, and why now may be the best time since the great depression to be buying up real estate, especially in the Las Vegas market.

In late 2006 and early 2007 the Las Vegas real estate market hit its all time median price high of around $320,000. Shortly thereafter, the now infamous “credit crunch” began in late summer 2007 and the entire economy, especially the housing industry, has been reeling backwards ever since. Over the last 18 months, the median home price in the Las Vegas valley has dropped an average of $10,000 per month…settling in at around $125,000. Prices have literally plummeted by as much as 75% in some segments of the Las Vegas market. And guess what? The free fall is over. They are not going to go down anymore.

I understand that this is a bold claim. But there are several factors that you must evaluate when trying to determine the bottom of a housing market. I have quoted these factors several times over the last two years, and have always maintained that they did not all line up…until now. The factors are: 1. The inventory of homes listed on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). 2. The number of homes being sold in the marketplace. 3. The average median price of homes. Once the inventory stops increasing, the volume begins trending upward and the median price stabilizes… you have found the true bottom of the market.

Looking first at number 1: The inventory of available single family homes in Las Vegas remained relatively stable at about 22,000 homes through much of 2008. This inventory is now at a level of just under 12,000 homes listed on the market ready for sale. Inventory is nearly ½ of its 2008 levels. Homes under $200,000 now have less than 4 months standing inventory. Homes under $100,000 have less than 3 months inventory. A normal healthy inventory is considered a 6 month supply of homes. The inventory of available homes is getting scarily low as realtors are worried about what to sell if they do not get some fresh foreclosure inventory.

Foreclosures reached an all time high in March of 2009 with over 7700 new foreclosures announced in Clark County. A large factor in this number being so high was the moratorium announced by the Obama administration that ended in the first quarter of the year. In contrast, April 2009 totals are showing only 1289 homes were foreclosed on in Clark County. This is the smallest amount of foreclosures for the Las Vegas area in the last 16 months. As foreclosures dry up, this will continue to contribute to the huge decrease in standing inventory that we are now observing.

Moving on to #2: With each passing month since early 2008, sales volume has picked up in Las Vegas. There were over 4000 sales in the Las Vegas market in April of 2009. Because of the lower prices more people can afford to buy…and they are buying. More investors are entering the market as properties have not cash flowed like this in over 10 years, and home prices are now at 1998 levels. It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that if you have 1300 new listings (new foreclosures), and you sold 4000 homes, your inventory is shrinking dramatically on a monthly basis.

The final factor to consider is median home price. The median home price in Las Vegas has dropped a TOTAL of $10,000 over the last three months…as opposed to $10,000 PER month…which had previously been the steady rate of decline for the last year and a half.

Inventory is getting smaller, prices have dropped to very affordable levels and appear to be leveling off, and sales are getting busier each and every month. The sheer numbers of foreclosures are finally decreasing from their highs also. All of this data helps to paint a clear picture of what is happening in the Las Vegas real estate market. But let me also share with you some non scientific observations that we can add to the equation.

As a full time investor and a licensed realtor I am getting shut out of properties left and right. Most properties both low end (under $150,000) and higher end ($300,000 and up) are receiving multiple offers and are now selling for prices above the list price. I am amazed at the amount of traffic I am coming across when I go out to look at properties. Some homes are getting 15-20 offers in the first couple of days after listing. More than 90% of all my purchases this year have been cash deals and I am still getting rejections in some cases even when we are coming in with full price cash offers.

Well, my friends, the cat is now out of the bag. Everyone now knows that Las Vegas real estate is cheap. Homes are well below replacement costs as the average foreclosed home is selling for around $78 a square foot. I just closed this week on a 2221 square foot home for $117,000 or $52 a square foot. It took nearly a month to negotiate this one down. Homes and condos are 50-75% off their highs and people are buying everything in sight. The good old days are back again. And, for the record, even if I am off slightly in my evaluation and we drop another 10% or so, it is still the best time to be buying real estate in Las Vegas. We have historically low interest rates of around 5%, great government incentives, especially for first time buyers with the $8,000 chameleon-like tax credit, and new lower comparable sales to justify banks accepting your lowball offers.

So if we have hit the bottom…as I suggest…how long will we be here? Will the market spike up or slowly trudge along the bottom until the economy as a whole begins to recover? I will explore those thoughts in more detail in my next article.

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How to Profitably Invest in Foreclosures

Within the realm of real estate investing, each type of investment (foreclosures, fixers, land, REITs, etc) has its good and bad times to buy. To be a successful investor you need to be able to identify not only which type of investment is the best at any given time but also which sub-category within that investment type you should look to specialize in, and when in the market cycle to buy.

Perhaps you are new to real estate investing (or not) and have heard that foreclosures currently abound and offer the best way for investors to gain instant equity in a property. This may well be very true. But the designation “foreclosure” is a general term comprised of many types of properties. Understanding the different types of foreclosures, where in the time line a particular foreclosure stands and which type of foreclosure offers the bet deal is critical to your success as an investor.

Along the time line of the foreclosure process, there are three basic areas that present buying opportunities for investors. The first of these has investors buying before the foreclosure auction. The second opportunity comes through buying homes directly at the auction. The third and final possibility is to buy properties after the auction is over, either directly from the bank or from an auction company. These bank owned properties are referred to as REO’s or Real Estate Owned. Each of these stages in the process provide unique benefits as well as challenges. The smart investor will need to contrast the pros and cons of each method in order to find the best and safest investment opportunities within the broad field of “foreclosures.”

The first opportunity for foreclosure investors, buying before the auction, encompasses the period of time when home owners are behind on their payments and realize they are in danger of losing their home but have not yet been foreclosed upon. This sub-category will include listed properties from the multiple listing service (MLS), short sales, notice of defaults (NODS) and notice of trustee’s sales (NOTS). For a number of important reasons, this is not a good time for anyone to be attempting to sell a home through “normal” retail channels. The sluggish nature of the housing market, the excess low priced inventory on the market, lending resrictions, and the anxiety of potential buyers willing to sit on the sidelines and wait for conditions to improve combine to make selling retail nearly impossible for most home owners. Sellers cannot compete against foreclosures so unless they too become a foreclosure they have no viable way to sell their home. This means that we as investors will have a very hard time finding a property to purchase with equity in it, at this stage of the foreclosure process.

There is one segment within this first stage to which we should direct a little bit of extra attention: short sales. A short sale occurs when an owner is in trouble and a potential buyer comes in and negotiates with the bank to purchase the property for a value less than the amount owed on the loan. This provides both a potential solution to the home owner and a way for investors to get a home at below market value. The downside to this method is that with the huge amount of foreclosures blanketing the nation, short sales are taking way too long to complete (4-6 months on average) or aren’t going through at all. Some recent statistics show that only about 20% of short sales actual close. There are still many companies, Realtors, and investors that are quite successful in short sales, but this niche is difficult and not one in which most investors find success.

The second opportunity for investors comes through buying properties at the foreclosure auction or trustee’s sale. Note that some states liquidate foreclosures through judicial proceedings, while others, like California and Nevada, have trustee’s sales that are held on the courthouse steps. The positive side of buying foreclosures at auction is that the competition for the property you are looking to buy is not usually all that stiff. However, in trust deed states you must have cash or the equivalent of at the time of the auction to be the winning bidder. This eliminates a huge majority of potential buyers as most folks do not have $100,000 or more easily accessible in cash. Because REO properties are now selling for levels under amounts owed on comparable properties in the (NOTS) stage, buying at the trustee’s sale is not a viable way to buy in most situations. Most properties brought to auction at this point are failing to sell for asking price and are reverting back to the banks and becoming bank owned REO’s. Again, there are professionals who are buying good properties at trustee’s sales and auctions, but it is not an easy way for a beginner to break into the foreclosure arena and it is a very small segment of the market at this time.

By far the best, easiest, safest, and most lucrative way to buy foreclosure properties at this time is during the third and final stage of the process: when the properties that are not sold at auction revert to the banks and become REOs. Because of the huge volume of foreclosures now on the market and the record numbers that will be coming in over the next 12-18 months, banks are lowering their prices daily just to move inventory. Banks are also, in many cases, placing homes with listing Realtor agents that specialize in selling REO homes.

If the properties do not sell in a 60-90 day period (after initial price discounting) many properties are going back to the bank and being re-listed t an even lower price with an auction company or sold off in bulk REO portfolios of $5 million and up for literal pennies on the dollar. Another benefit of bank owned properties is that they are almost always vacant, making it easy to get inside and inspect them before purchasing. This is usually not the case when purchasing in other stages of the foreclosure process where most homes are still occupied by owners or tenants.

As an investor and licensed Realtor that has bought homes in all stages of the foreclosure process, both for myself and for my investor clients, I am advising my clients to take full advantage of what could be one of the best foreclosure buying markets we will ever see. I personally am based in the Las Vegas area and I have seen the Las Vegas real estate market go from the #1 hottest in the nation in 2004, to one of the slowest in 2007. In 2009 volume is increasing and Las Vegas is once again becoming one of the best and busiest real estate markets in the U.S. There is one thing and one thing only that is driving this change: foreclosures.

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