Friday, January 30, 2009

107-TNG Radio - Christopher Thornberg 1-31-09

Bruce Norris is joined once again this week by Principal and Co-Founder of Beacon Economics, Christopher Thornberg.

Bruce and Christopher continue their conversation about paying the debt we are currently giving our children. Christopher talks about World War II and how quickly we paid the debt back. Christopher doesn’t have a problem with raising money but government has a problem sometimes paying it back.

Bruce brings up that the State of California can’t raise money so how do you fix the issue. Christopher says California’s problem is $40 billion of a $1.8 trillion in economy which is only 3.5%. It’s not that big of a number. California is 18th in the list of states as far as paying taxes. We’re a little above average. We just collect them in strange ways. Instead of taxes on a ton of small things, we have larger taxes for a smaller bunch of things. Christopher says we have the most regressive property tax. There’s a small group of people who pay a larger portion of the taxes. There’s other ways to make California more tax friendly and pay off debt.

Bruce brings up Prop 13. Christopher thinks Proposition 13 is ridiculous. Voters would have to overturn that proposition.

Bruce brings up Citibank and the concept of cramdownsn which they agreed to cooperate with in bankruptcy court. Bruce asks if that’s possible and Christopher said it is. There’s a new president and an administration that’s more left leaning. Certainly some would pursue bankruptcy as a way to do so but it does incur costs above and beyond just losing your home. Other assets will be at risk. Christopher asks if judges will really consider this alternative as some of these people lied on their loan applications. Bruce says we haven’t put much pressure on the people who exaggerated income. Christopher says the FBI came out early and said they would not be pursuing the consumer. He finds it hard to believe a judge would take the same stance if a consumer blatantly lied on their application and then were seeking a cramdown.

Christopher talks about the huge issue of people going in to default after the payments are adjusted through loan modification. Reports suggest 50% go back into default.

Bruce brings up TARP and the term crawl back which is when CEOs have to give back bonuses if the banks restate their earnings. Christopher says they should have to give it back. Christopher says the problems in the market stems from the problem with executives in the financial system because they were grossly compensated for short-term returns. Christopher talks about some of the ways these executives made millions. He brings up a Lehman executive who made $400 million in six years and how he did it. Executives need to have some skin in the game.

Christopher says mortgage backed securities were used to hide risk. Bruce brings up what they used to call these instruments in the 1900s and how they were made illegal. Christopher is not apposed to derivatives, they’re just extremely complex. We just need to understand them more and the motivation for why people use them.

Bruce asks what the next shoe to drop will be in California. Christopher says asset values are now returning to normal. Savings rates are ridiculously low and debt is way up. Americans thought they were rich. Wall Street tricked these people into believing they could retire early. America has to get spending under control. It’s healthy but painful in the short run. Our economy is too reliant on feeding consumers what they want. It’s not we are buying too few cars today; we bought too many the past few years.

Bruce brings up that the consumer spending was a lesser percentage of the GDP in the past as it was in recent history. Christopher expects that to get back in line. Huge trade deficit was also part of this equation. There was a trade deficit and a savings deficit. In two years, there will be more exports, less imports, and less consumer spending and then we’ll have a healthy economy ready for growth. Bruce brings up that China won’t appreciate it much.

Bruce talks about a report Christopher Thornberg wrote called “Waiting to Save” which is about the habits of the younger generation (24-34) and their saving habits. Bruce says this generation will be picking up some tabs that they didn’t even create. Christopher says this generation grew up in a market where you borrow to speculate. People have to learn to live within their means.

Bruce asks about defined benefit plans. Christopher says for the most part they have left the room and only reside in government. He’s afraid these benefits might never happen and we might figure that out in the coming years. Many of these programs have lost much of their value.

Join us next week for a chat with Mike Cantu before we release his Rental and Property management seminar February 21st.

Christopher Thornberg is a founding partner of Beacon Economics. Dr. Thornberg is an expert in the study of regional economies, real estate dynamics, labor markets and business forecasting. He has been involved in a number of special studies measuring the impact of important events on the economy, including the NAFTA treaty, the California power crisis, port security, California water transfer programs and the September 11th terrorist attacks. Prior to launching Beacon he worked with the UCLA Anderson Forecast where he regularly authored the outlooks for California, Los Angeles and the East Bay as well as performing a number of specialized forecasts for regions and industries. Dr. Thornberg lectures on a regular basis at a variety of public and private events, has appeared on CNN, Fox News and CNBC and is widely quoted in the press. He received his Ph.D in Business Economics from The Anderson School and his B.S. in Business Administration from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He specializes in International and Labor Economics. Dr. Thornberg continues to teach in the MBA program at UCLA and previously held a faculty position in the economics department at Clemson University.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

106-TNG Radio - Christopher Thornberg 1-24-09

Bruce Norris is joined this week by Founding Partner and Economist with Beacon Economics, Dr. Christopher Thornberg.

Bruce asks what Christopher thinks about the phrase, “Since the Great Depression.” Christopher says it’s a bit of an exaggeration and there are definitely sectors that have been hit hard but it’s not that bad. Some assets are still holding well.

Bruce asks about the benchmark numbers that clue us in on a depression. Christopher says that before World War II, every recession was a depression. The word “recession” was created so there could be talk about economic downturns without alluding to the Great Depression which might cause panic. He says you could categorize a really bad recession as a depression.

Bruce asks about employment and if they’re measuring differently as there are several categories including under employed. Christopher says employment numbers are measured the same and there have always been those other categories. We’re mainly talking about people who want to find employment but can’t.

Bruce asks if Christopher thought he would ever see these big financial corporations fall. He said he did about six months before it happened because they had really leveraged themselves and it was unsustainable. Debt to equity ratios were 80 to 1. It became apparent any turmoil would cause a failure. The thinking was the more leverage, the more return. During bad times, that same principle works the other way; it magnifies losses. Now the government is picking up the pieces.

Bruce talks about the rating systems that we thought were independent and we find out they were getting commissions. Christopher says people who listen to Moody’s and S&P need to understand the system a little more. Many of these assets they were rating were new and didn’t have much history. Their ratings came from modeling so there was not a complete knowledge of risk. Bruce says that’s an issue because people were looking to these companies and they thought they could trust them. Christopher says people have to do their own due diligence. People stopped looking at fundamentals and weren’t doing their homework. When the market was working, people got lax. Bruce and Christopher talk about Bernie Madoff and how he could possibly get away with that for years without getting caught.

Bruce asks why it seems that when our bubble popped it seemingly caused the rest of the world to collapse. Christopher says that the U.S. is definitely the financial guerilla in the world at 25% of the world economy. However, the U.S. was not the only place where abuses of the financial systems were going on. The kind of borrowing going on in Eastern Europe is a perfect example. Some countries are in much worse shape than we are currently.

Bruce asks Christopher if there are ramifications to the U.S. and its reputation because of the fall. Christopher says there won’t be. Our dollar is good by comparison. In the U.S., you know what you’re getting and we have a very diverse and large asset base. U.S. Government debt is considered the best. The talk that everyone was going to Euro was all talk. In 2005 there were some issues but the problem spread to other banks in other countries and the dollar got everything back that it lost in 2005.

Bruce talks about TARP and if Christopher thinks the first half was spent wisely. Christopher said yes. Congress is upset that there is not enough oversight. Christopher says TARP was not meant to force banks to lend money. It was meant to stabilize the banking system. The system is still in horrible shape. There was an enormous increase in asset value and not just in real estate. The delinquencies on all sorts of debt are way up. Banks will possibly lose trillions. The banking system needs to keep going and we have to step in and help the banks recover.

The initial TARP program Christopher did not like. They were going to go in and overpay for assets. They’ve been taking chunks of the money and give it to banks that are too big to fail (Citigroup, Bank of America) and small banks that are healthy that haven’t participated in the debt frenzy to allow them to expand. It allows these banks to pick up other banks as they fail.

Christopher says the TARP money is all borrowing and the government creating Treasury bonds. The government is also facing a huge fiscal deficit so they need t borrow.

Bruce talks about interest rates and its effect on inflation and trillions in deficits. Christopher sees about another two trillion to total 11.5 trillion. It will be 15% of GDP. It’s all relative and it’s not that bad. And they unfortunately have to pick up next week. More about Christopher and Beacon Economics at

Christopher Thornberg is a founding partner of Beacon Economics. Dr. Thornberg is an expert in the study of regional economies, real estate dynamics, labor markets and business forecasting. He has been involved in a number of special studies measuring the impact of important events on the economy, including the NAFTA treaty, the California power crisis, port security, California water transfer programs and the September 11th terrorist attacks. Prior to launching Beacon he worked with the UCLA Anderson Forecast where he regularly authored the outlooks for California, Los Angeles and the East Bay as well as performing a number of specialized forecasts for regions and industries. Dr. Thornberg lectures on a regular basis at a variety of public and private events, has appeared on CNN, Fox News and CNBC and is widely quoted in the press. He received his Ph.D in Business Economics from The Anderson School and his B.S. in Business Administration from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He specializes in International and Labor Economics. Dr. Thornberg continues to teach in the MBA program at UCLA and previously held a faculty position in the economics department at Clemson University.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

105-TNG Radio - Rick Solis 1-17-09

Bruce Norris is joined this week once again by appraiser and investor, Rick Solis.

Bruce and Rick start by talking about market value. Rick says market value is what a ready, willing, able, and knowledgeable buyer is willing to pay for a property. Bruce asks if this definition is being held up with lenders in today’s market. Rick says that lenders are not. Bruce talks about how real estate auctions do not reflect true market value compared to fixed inventory. The majority of the inventory needs fixing and must be sold in a certain time frame.

Rick says the market is very different from the 90s. In the 90s, Rick says that there used to be a box that said “declining market”. If that box was checked, the deal wouldn’t go through. Now, the lenders will do those transactions but lenders require more comparables. It becomes difficult to find similar inventory. The banks will want to see the appraiser adjust for the market. Appraisals used to be good for 6 months. With a declining market, comparables need to be 60 days or less from the day of funding. Lenders want at least 2, preferable 3, comps within 60 days of funding.

Bruce asks how long appraisals are accurate in today’s market. In some areas, Rick says prices continue to drop quickly so not long. Every area is different. Bruce says in the last 60 days, appraisals are becoming more of an issue. Bruce talks about a recent example of an issue with an appraisal on a property with multiple offers. Bruce asks Rick what will happen if lenders don’t change their stance on valuing properties and creating comps that reflect perfect condition.

Bruce heard recently that lenders are considering doing refinances without appraisals because of the price declines which Rick has heard as well. He thinks that’s an interesting way to solve the issue. Rick says they keep throwing whatever they can at the issue. Rick says they did the same type of things during the Great Depression. Bruce talks about similarities with policies from the Great Depression and now.

Bruce asks if before and after pictures on properties are helpful. Rick says videotaping properties before and after would be a great help but if there are too many repairs they may want to see permits. He says to document all multiple offer situations.

Bruce and Rick then start talking about the principle of substitution. Bruce says there’s a short supply of good inventory. There’s a glut of inventory that needs fixing. Bruce feels bad for appraisers who have to fight for real prices and they have to be careful. Banks are only looking at pictures and don’t really understand what’s happening in the area. Rick takes many more pictures than is required to show banks why prices are where they are at.

Bruce asks about arms-length transactions. Bruce asks about what would happen if The Norris Group carried its own paper and created higher comps. He asks if that would be a conflict because of arms-length transaction rules. Rick discusses the potential issues and uses the example of builders.

Bruce asks what percentage of sales has concessions in the current market. Rick says almost 100% of transactions on properties that are on the market for two weeks or more have concessions although it’s not always easy to figure out what those concessions are. Appraisers don’t always know the concessions.

Bruce asks what percentage is allowed for condition in appraisals. Rick says condition can be about 10%. If you adjust more, it can become and issue. It becomes easy with comparables but more difficult if the data isn’t there to support line item adjustments for over 10%.

If the appraisal comes in wrong in the eyes of the bank, you get blacklisted and there’s a possibility of not getting paid. Rick says review appraisals were not as common when the market was going up. Some did but they were way more lenient. Review appraisers typically do a desk review and never go see the property. They are looking at online information. These review appraisers are typically hired independent contractors.

Bruce asks Rick what he would like to see changed. Rick says not having the lender paying for the appraisal would be better. That way there would be no pressure and more honest appraisals could take place.

Next week is Christopher Thornberg with Beacon Economics.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

104-TNG Radio - Rick Solis 1-10-09

Bruce Norris is joined this week by appraiser and investor, Rick Solis.

Rick has been appraising properties since 1989. Rick says it was a perfect time to start because he got to see both cycles. In 1989, you didn’t even need a license. Education, Rick says, has not improved appraisals. Bruce talks about how he got his appraisers license and why. They both say much of the business is street smarts.

Rick got into the business because he purchased a Dave Delgado seminar. He started buying a lot of houses. He realized he needed to know how to evaluate properties.

Bruce asks if appraisers are under pressure to come in at a certain number. Rick says pressure is coming from several sources including agents, buyers, sellers, and banks. From 2004-2006 the pressure was for the appraisers to come in high. Today, banks put appraiser reports through many more hoops. They are looking for something wrong with it and they have review appraisals done. They also use an automated valuation model (AVM) to check numbers. In a down market, the AVM is not an issue. It’s a real problem in an up market. Everyone is just being much more conservative.

Bruce asks Rick how he compares this downturn from the 90s. Rick says this downturn is much worse. There was a more gradual decline over several years in the 90s. Prices are much more erratic in the current market and it varies from month to month.

Rick says areas with lots of new houses, where there are lots of first-time homebuyer inventory, and far out areas seem to have gotten pummeled. Sometimes 60% of the value disappeared. Rick tries to turn down appraisals for irregular products (dirt roads, manufactured homes, etc). It’s very difficult to find comps and arrive at a number.

Rick says in 2009 he expects to see drops in pricing every month for the Inland Empire. Rick says in his area in LA, sales seem to have dropped by 75%. Prices are still coming down there too. Bruce asks Rick what percentage of sales in Victorville were REO. Bruce says 92% of all sales in the area were REO. Reselling in that area would be very difficult. It would be very difficult to get an appraisal too. When 98% are vacant and need work and almost all sales are REO, it’s very difficult to get comps to substantiate a higher price.

Bruce asks what Rick is running into when working with investors. Rick says too many investors are going off the sales price in the MLS. The numbers are incorrect at times because of bad data entry or concessions. Some of the busy REO agents are having assistants enter in the data and they aren’t being careful.

Rick says he uses the MLS but confirms those prices with public record. He uses Real Quest and Dataquick to make sure his numbers are correct. Luckily, data is getting a little better and more complete.

Rick says listings aren’t so much calculated into his appraisals but he does spend more time on pending sales.
Bruce asks if the goal for appraising properties for an investor is different then doing to for retail buyers. Rick says working with buyers is different because the buyer is dictating the price. It becomes its own comp. The investor purchase is more difficult.

Tune in next week as the conversation continue.

Rick is the senior appraiser at Ace Appraisals. Rick has been a full time real estate appraiser since 1989 and a HUD approved appraiser since 1993. He has extensive investor and appraisal experience in residential real estate in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange County areas.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

103-TNG Radio - The Norris Group 1-3-09

Bruce Norris is joined once again by Craig Hill (hard money loan officer at The Norris Group) and Greg Norris (full-time property buyer for The Norris Group.

Bruce asks Craig about calls from first time investors purchasing homes with structural damage and mold. Craig says he steers newer investors with no construction background away from heavy fixer uppers. Houses don’t have to be a complete disaster. You don’t want their first house to be a bad experience.

Bruce asks Greg what he is doing differently from one year ago to buy and sell properties. Greg says he hasn’t changed that much but has gotten more efficient. At the very beginning he was doing cheaper repairs but now there’s a little more upgrades. Instead of linoleum we use tile in some areas and instead of tile on counters he puts in granite. We need to be the best on the market.

Realtors that deal with buyers are saying great things. One in particular isn’t wasting any more of her time on REOs and has decided to only show our homes because of the quality.

Greg says price and condition are really important in this market. Greg says the higher end listings have disappeared and TNG is typically the highest. Inventory is very low. Even though The Norris Group is the highest, the homes still sell. Consumers don’t want to deal with the fixers and want a nice home.

Appraisals are a bit of a problem. Greg says he’s having to set a top level. Buyers are wanting to see a top payment to be $1200-$1400 per month which is similar to rent if not a little less. Greg talks about the staging of the homes and how it helps with presentation. It helps online showings.

Bruce and Craig talk about the hold ups with selling. Craig says financing and appraisers are the biggest issues. There seems to be willing buyers for fixed homes. Craig says homes are being fixed better than they were in the 90s. More is being spent.

Craig is having to tell people not to chase the market and get very realistic on price. He often calls clients if a loan has been going more than five months. He wants to make sure the investor gets to the finish line. It’s difficult when prices are declining.

Bruce asks Greg about appraisal issues. Greg says the last 30 days has been much more difficult. Banks are so scared they are overcompensating. Appraisals over one month are considered old. Three months is considered too old.

Bruce asks about FHA transactions and the 180 day rule. Greg says he’s never been asked for a second appraisal. Bruce thinks maybe the review appraisal is the second appraisal. Bruce says that some of these appraisers are sitting 500 miles away.

Bruce asks Craig about loans that can’t seem to close. Craig says there is willingness on the side of the buyer but it’s the financing piece that’s causing problems for California real estate transactions. The checks and re-checks of the buyers stall closings.

Bruce asks Craig about the many new trust deed investors The Norris Group has had come on in the last 90 days and what makes them feel secure about doing investments. Craig says perceived safety is key. Craig makes small loans amounts, the investor is a special borrower, and typically the worst case would be the money lender ends up with a property.

Bruce brings up the fact The Norris Group was very conservative over the past few years so some of TNG’s main money investors placed their money elsewhere. Bruce asks about some of the uh-oh stories Craig has heard about. Craig says money investors are attracted to the return and sometimes forget there’s risk, especially if they had been working with TNG who has a very good record.. He told some to be patient and that TNG would be busy again soon. Some of these investors didn’t wait, went elsewhere, and now have a small portfolio of non-paying loans.

Bruce asks Greg what the secrets are to keep good contractors interested in doing our work. Greg says that it’s important to be easy to deal with. We don’t stand in their way and we have work. Consistent work is a big deal.

Bruce asks if there’s red flags when dealing with contractors. Greg says when contractors ask for money before work is done it’s a red flag. Greg typically pays every two weeks. The Norris Group pays for the parts. TNG knows what parts we want installed and we’re really just contracting labor. Greg says contractors resisted his method of buying all the parts at first but later said they liked the system. It allows them to have less money out of pocket and actually take on more jobs. Home Depot was difficult to work with at first but now after dealing with them for a year, it’s really easy and everything happens over email.

Craig says repairs is still a big hurdle but they get used to it. Sometimes Craig forwards them before and after photos and videos of an investor’s work. He’s had money investors turn down a project but then they see before and after videos of an investor’s work and they sign up for several. Once they see what investors do, they feel more comfortable.

Craig talks about holds for repair money. Most houses are needing major repairs so almost all loans have money held for renovation. Red flags for Craig are investors who want money before repairs are finished. Draws are given after things are completed. This protects the money investor and also makes sure the investor stays on track.

Bruce asks Greg how he handles all the showings of the properties since he lists all of the properties for The Norris Group. Greg says he doesn’t show them at all. If interested buyers call, Greg used to tell them to call their local agent after figuring what they were looking for. Greg wants buyers to be pre-qualified and doesn’t have a time deal all of that. He really relies on buyers agents.

Bruce asks Greg how we protect ourselves during escrow. Greg says he does all of his due diligence up front now to make sure he doesn’t go into escrow with someone who can’t close. He wants all buyers to be pre-qualified and not just pre-approved.

Craig Hill has been in the hard money loan business for over 25 years. Greg Norris has been working as the Norris Group's full time property buyer for going on two years. More information about The Norris Group at and

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