I've never had a hangover. (Let's just say I'm not much of a drinker.) But friends tell me they're excruciating. Pounding headaches, nausea, dehydration, exhaustion, disorientation. And of course, the unfortunate symptom of memory loss.
For most of the mid-2000s, our industry was drunk on new construction. We overbuilt. Overleveraged. Over-indulged. And now, we are dealing with a hard hat hangover. What's worse, along with the headaches and disorientation, we're already showing signs of the requisite forgetfulness.
Five years ago, companies were wooed by interest-only loans and loosey-goosey lending standards. Today, the bait is even more enticing—it's backed by data dished out at every industry event by economists and demographers who say that, come 2012 and 2013, the demand for multifamily housing will surpass the available supply.
What that means is that 2010 will see more shovels put to dirt in anticipation of a coming wave of Gen Yers. In particular, REITs with the resources to secure construction financing—Alexandria, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities, Chicago-based Equity Residential, Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based UDR, and Houston-based Camden Property Trust—are among the major players reigniting their pipelines.
Whether that's wise or just another shot of wishful thinking remains to be seen. Here's what I do know: First, demographics paint a tantalizing picture, though unemployment continues to hover above 10 percent nationally and in most metro areas. Translation: Johnny won't leave his parents' basement for his own apartment if neither he nor mom and dad can pay the rent.
Second, the psychology of homeownership in this country has changed. The most optimistic among us say the notion that buying a single-family home is the only road to wealth generation has been blown out of the water—that Echo Boomers are disillusioned with the idea of a two-story dream home and white picket fence. I don't know if I agree. There is still something enticing about the idea of owning a piece of land or property—plus, greed has a way of rearing its head when options for a quick return exist.
In addition, construction costs are nearing historical lows. That has many executives in the industry willing to toy with the idea that merchant builders—folks like Dallas-based Trammell Crow Residential, the longtime No. 1 builder of multifamily units in the country who didn't break ground on a single unit in 2009—will come back full force soon enough. Perhaps. But even if they do, I'd be willing to wager they will look nothing like they did pre-bender.
Finally, there's still too much volatility in the marketplace. “We're at the bottom,” most people insist. “2010 is the turning point,” they say. And then you look at the numbers. January saw a double-digit increase in multifamily housing starts, followed by a 30.3 percent dip in starts in February, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Those kinds of ups and downs do not bode well for a slow, steady recovery—which is exactly what our industry needs.
That's part of the reason why, in this issue, we offer survival strategies from five developers who are finding ways to generate revenue through the Great Recession. The article, “Recession Lessons,” starts on page 22, and the tactics highlighted are innovative and interesting. Of course, we've seen it before—necessity is the mother of invention. Or inventory, as the case may be.
It's just a shame that we can't seem to learn our lesson. Such is the nature of real estate cycles, I suppose. I only hope our next hangover isn't quite as bad as this one.