Investor sentiment: Get a clue or get out of the way

by KERRI PANCHUK

http://www.HousingWire.com

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011, 5:02 pm

 

There’s a feeling in the air, and it’s not one of hope, change or prosperity.

It’s more like an unsettling, quiet feeling that has pushed real estate investors to a point of frustration. You can almost hear them sitting at their desks, pounding away, wanting to shout out, “Hey, either get a solid plan for the housing market, or get out of the way.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke politely sent the same message to Washington when he spoke last week. The chairman’s speech lightly touched on a key point: the Fed can only do so much. At some point, policymakers in Washington need to adopt a solid, concise fiscal plan and restore the housing market or let someone else do it for them.

All of these frustrations stem from a type of schizophrenia that is currently infecting the nation’s political elite.

James Frischling, president of NewOak Capital put it this way: “The U.S. government has been unable to stop the slide or relieve the congestion in the housing market thus far. Private capital is both available and interested in this market, but not with the looming uncertainties that have been created with regulatory reform and newly formed government programs.”

And perhaps speaking directly to the powers that be, he said, “like it or not, if you want to re-start the housing market, attract capital and put people in that industry back to work, the government will need to make the rules clear and then get out of the way.”

Many investors agree with Frischling’s call to action.

And, investors perked up when a proposal was announced to sell government properties in bulk to investors for the purpose of turning them into rental properties. But if it’s like other plans, it will take forever to get additional details.

The American Securitization Forum came out with a novel idea Tuesday, suggesting the best risk-retention rule for financial institutions that pack mortgages into securities is one that holds the parties to the exact terms of the contract, making them 100% liable for misrepresenting loan data. In other words, write those contracts tightly and follow the rule of law or else you buy back the loan.

Compare that to the government’s proposed 5% risk-retention rule which comes with varying standards for determining when a party must retain 5% of the risk on MBS.

The rule and its accompanying qualified residential mortgage proposal are equally unpopular, but no one has killed them yet.

This leads to another issue: the fact that after three years of deliberations nothing is finalized. It’s still unclear how many of the rules introduced to govern the future mortgage markets will shape out. Having no concise plan, means market players are unable to plan, which stifles growth.

So where has this taken us?

Billionaire Sam Zell told Bloomberg this week he’s favoringreal estate deals outside the United States.

Roger Steiner of Access Realty Services told HousingWire he’s been an investor for the past 32 years and recently “the word ‘investor’ has a negative ring to it when coming from many politicians and talking heads on TV.”

He’s well aware of what is taking the market so long to recover.

“Homebuilders cannot build now, but they could buy bank-owned properties and rehab them for new owner-occupants and future buyers,” he told HousingWire. “This is a healthy environment for homebuilders and investors to provide housing to millions of Americans and speed recovery of the economy. Without the home and commercial building industry recovering, the general real estate and American economy is at the mercy of the federal government, which has proven it cannot manage and improve the economy the past two years.”

In other words, everyone has a plan on the table or some idea of what a plan should look like.

That is everyone except Washington.

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