I just got back from the 2015 Vail Leadership Summit, an MFE conference that occurs each year in Colorado.
And it seemed fitting to have a conference up on a mountain at this moment in time, because a lot of folks feel like that’s where we are at this point in the cycle—soaring high above the clouds, up in nose-bleed territory.The question is, are we near the peak? If so, how close? Are we at the peak? The problem with being at the peak is, there’s nowhere to go but down. Maybe we’re already on the other side of the mountain, starting to feel the pull of gravity.
The theme of this year’s show was “Built to Last,” or Built to Withstand the Test of Time, and that seems fitting too. As more new units come on line, the resiliency of the market, the elasticity of rents, the upper limits of absorption levels, are all going to be stress-tested this year.
We’ll see, pretty quickly, just how much more mojo we can coax out of this cycle.
Now, I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic in the midst of such a great market. But I’ve always been the kind of person who hopes for the best and expects the worst.
So let me back up for a second and admit that I come from a long line of pessimists. It’s true, my father, my mother, my grandparents on both sides, they all had this pretty rough view of the world, a kind of brutal Italian existentialism that saw life as a Jack-in-the-Box of disappointment just waiting to spring open.
They were farmers, people of the earth, so they had a different perspective on life.
Like, when I was 8 years old, all of my friends were getting these lucky rabbit feet—it was the hot toy of the moment, the flavor of the month. They were just rabbit feet dyed purple or blue or orange, and they came on a keychain, and I really wanted one.
So, one day at my grandpa’s house, I told him all about it and he said, “Oh, you want a rabbit’s foot? I can get you a rabbit’s foot.” And he proceeded to grab a kitchen knife on his way to the backyard, where he kept rabbits in a cage (he would make stew out of them), and, well … he got me a rabbit’s foot. The old-fashioned way.
He cut it off at the thigh, so it was huge, and bloody, and I think it was still twitching, still trying to run away, when he handed it to me.
Now, to my 8-year old mind, this bloody stump was the coolest thing in the world—I couldn’t wait to show my friends. They all had these corny little trinkets, and I had the real thing!
But my parents wouldn’t let me bring it home, much to my disappointment. Maybe that’s why, 33 years later, I still have a need to show it off.
So, while we’d love nothing more than to celebrate this great market and be a cheerleader for the industry—while we’d love to just show you the blue-and-pink rabbit’s foot—it wouldn’t feel natural. And it wouldn’t be professional.
One of MFE’s missions is to sound the alarm when we think things are getting out of control. And when we hear what’s going on out there—about Vegas and Phoenix being hot markets again; about condo conversion activity; about cap rates in the 3% range; about how it’s cheaper to build than buy; about how the land guys and brokers are making all the money at this point in the cycle … well, it’s enough to make you question whether we’re pushing our luck.
If you want the same old company line, go check out our competition—you know who they are. They rewrite press releases and call it news. They’re just along for the ride.
But joy-riding isn’t baked into our DNA—my people would have none of that. So, while the industry rubs that lucky rabbit’s foot (with the keychain attached), we’re going to have to show you the bloody stump too.
It’s just who we are. We are the real thing.
Thanks again, Grandpa.