The theme of this year’s Multifamily Executive Conference in September was “Seize the Day.”
But it could’ve just as easily been “Strike While the Iron’s Hot” or “Get While the Getting’s Good” or “Come and Get It” … or some other cliché that conveys a window of opportunity. Because, right now, that window is wide open for nearly everyone in our industry.
And the conference was, in many ways, a celebration of that fact, reflected in the gait and tone of the more than 700 attendees. But while the mood was optimistic, maybe even a little giddy, that doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted.
In fact, just the opposite: I would argue there’s never been a more crucial time to act, to wring every last drop out of this upturn, than today.
Why all the urgency? Why is this moment in time so critical? Because there’s another side to the phrase “carpe diem” that most people don’t think about.
The phrase originally appeared in a poem by the Greek writer Horace in about 23 B.C., and the full phrase, which nobody ever quotes (because it seems kind of depressing), goes like this:
“Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next … .”
In other words, don’t leave anything to chance. You have to work hard today to make sure tomorrow is a better place. It’s not just going to happen for you.
And yet, if you go to a lot of other industry conferences, it almost seems like it will just happen for you. Inevitably, some smart economist will stand up at these shows and say, “We need to be building 400,000 units a year to keep up with demand. Gen Y is going to be a gravy train, 80 million strong, that we can all ride to new heights of profitability. The homeownership rate will go down toward 60 percent and stay there,” or some such hyperbolic cocktail.
And that might all be true. I used to drink that Kool-Aid myself. A year ago at the MFE Conference, I said the same thing about Gen Y and 400,000 units and the shift away from homeownership.
But then I thought more about it. Not so much about the numbers themselves, but their psychological effect. And it’s exactly those kinds of numbers that get us all drunk on our own exuberance. It’s those kinds of numbers that make it seem like the good times will never end.
But they will, at some point. They always do.
Because isn’t it always the case: Just when everything comes together perfectly, just when you thought you had the luxury of taking life for granted, you find one more cliché waiting for you: “You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it.”
And as the CMBS market slides back into some loose underwriting; as the new construction pipeline grows larger every day; as more and more multifamily rookies muscle into our turf, looking for a piece of the action, I start to get a little worried.
Windows of opportunity are inherently short-lived, like a flower. In fact, “carpe diem,” literally translated, means “pluck the day.” So, to paraphrase poet Robert Herrick, get plucking, folks. Time’s flying. That same flower that smiles today tomorrow will be dying. MFE