According to Forbes online, Las Vegas is the #1 city in America for Baby Boomers. This is especially relevant considering the fact that 2011 is the year when the first wave of baby boomers turn 65 years of age. It is a demographic fact that Americans age 65 and older now officially make up 13% of the total population. These seasoned consumers can be expected to influence economic trends across the country (by virtue of their spending power) for decades to come. One of the important ways this economic clout will come into play concerns the choices made for residency in the retirement years. The Las Vegas real estate market presents a highly attractive opportunity for retirees looking for an active lifestyle in a diverse metropolitan environment. Southern Nevada has some of the best weather you can find and the second lowest tax burden in the country after Alaska (where the golfing is seasonal to say the least). Our outdoor recreational opportunities are some of the very best in the southwest and our indoor shopping, dining and gaming venues are world famous as you well know. Las Vegas retirement homes are particularly attractive due to the fact that prices have dropped by as much as 60% over the last three years. Although pricing has adjusted downward dramatically, you can be sure that the quality of the communities and their extensive amenities are still very much in place. For example, in a recent ranking of the Top 10 most luxurious retirement communities in the country, Sun City Anthem in Henderson was rated #1 in the United States. With spectacular golf courses and clubhouses featuring the finest in upscale amenities, Sun City Anthem bested competitors in California, Arizona and Florida for the top spot. As a matter of fact, Southern Nevada features a total of four Del Webb Sun City communities spread across the valley. No matter what lifestyle you may be looking for in your retirement years, Las Vegas has a 55+ community for you. As you can see, we aren’t the number one baby boomer city in America for no reason!
Any sustainable recovery in the Las Vegas real estate market is going to have to begin with a demonstrable improvement in the local economy and a lowering of our unemployment rate. As much as Southern Nevada has talked about diversifying its economic base over the years, the fact remains that the majority of economic activity valley wide still depends on the Las Vegas Strip. Fortunately, there are some encouraging signs that tourist activity on the Strip has taken a significant turn for the better throughout the course of the year. If this progress can be sustained going forward, we should begin to see a gradual improvement in the overall economy, which would be welcome news indeed. Here is a rundown of recent data that suggests cautious optimism is in order.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Strip is running at a pace that should produce about 39 million visitors for 2011. This number is significant and encouraging for two reasons. First of all, through July of this year, Vegas visitation numbers are running about four and a half per cent higher than last years totals. Secondly, if we can keep up this pace through the rest of the year, the Las Vegas Strip should just about match the previous record total of 39.2 million visitors set back in 2007. While it is certainly true that people spend less than they used to when they visit our city, just the fact that overall attendance totals are returning to pre-recession levels is encouraging in and of itself. However, people do also seem to be spending more money in 2011 than the previous few years. Gaming revenues in Clark County have been rising steadily since May and casinos that service the local market have participated in the increase as well. Even McCarran International Airport is getting in on the action as Southwest Airlines, WestJet and Allegiant Air all made recent announcements regarding new flight routes as well as expanded service from existing cities.
The Las Vegas real estate market is number one in America for positive cash flow returns for real estate investors. In no city in the nation is it more advantageous to buy as opposed to renting, which is a direct reflection of the tremendous drop in prices across southern Nevada over the past four years. Demand for rental housing is surging here in Las Vegas and across the country. In Las Vegas, rental demand is substantially a result of people being forced to leave their homes due to foreclosure or the successful completion of a short sale. Although you can stay in your home upwards of two years in many cases without paying your mortgage, eventually you have to go and after living in a single family home most people prefer to rent the same as opposed to living in an apartment complex. Las Vegas foreclosures continue to lead the nation and as a consequence rental demand for single family homes is expected to remain strong for the foreseeable future. Additional factors contributing to strong rental demand both locally and nationally include high levels of personal economic anxiety and more stringent lending standards to obtain a mortgage. Although we do see some flipping, the majority of the investor activity in our market is geared towards the long-term with buyers enjoying a positive monthly rental return combined with the intention to hold properties for at least five to ten years. Given the gyrations in the stock market of late, more and more people seem to be interested in adding residential real estate to their investment portfolios and Las Vegas offers the best risk/return ratios you can find anywhere. Another target for investment is the high-end segment of our market. Las Vegas luxury homes are selling for substantially below replacement cost and this is proving to be very enticing. Opportunities are plentiful and the discounts are staggering in some cases. For example, right now there is a stunning luxury home in The Estates at Southern Highlands that is currently priced at $3.9 million, down from $11.5 million just three years ago. In fact, as of the close of business today there are 23 luxury homes in foreclosure in Las Vegas between 750K and four million dollars.
With President Obama scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress on Thursday evening about jobs and the economy, many minds are concentrated on the housing market and the central role it plays in the continuing economic downturn. The depressed real estate market and stubbornly high unemployment numbers are deeply intertwined. One of the main reasons this recession is so difficult to escape from is that housing cannot help lift us up. It has historically been the case that housing has led the country out of many past recessions, yet this time is clearly a different matter. The bursting of a massive financial bubble creates a different kind of recessionary dynamic and four years into this mess we are just now beginning to realize how truly intransigent the situation is. Job growth of zero for the month of August was just the latest reminder that we are making very poor progress in getting the nation back on the economic track.
New plans are apparently in the works to address the massive inventory of foreclosed homes held by the U.S. government, currently about 250,000 units (roughly one third of the REO total nationwide). One proposal gaining prominence is for Fannie and Freddie to turn their existing inventory into rental properties. On the surface it seems like a reasonable proposal and would theoretically create new jobs in the construction sector as foreclosures were refurbished and prepared for new tenants. As a practical matter the entire scheme seems both dubious and potentially dangerous. The conversion of 200,000+ homes into livable rentals would require the creation of a well organized renovation, landlord and property management function (on a huge scale) that would seem to be beyond the logistical capability of the federal bureaucracy. Ostensibly this massive nationwide managerial task could be contracted out, but to who exactly? Would a public/private partnership on this scale and scope be realistically doable? Before this problem even comes into play, the renovation process would have to be funded and the Republicans in the House are dead set against any new federal spending initiatives. Las Vegas foreclosures continue to lead the nation so the current debate is of more than passing interest to the Michelle Sterling Team as you might imagine.
The truth is that Fannie and Freddie are disposing of foreclosed homes to private investors at a record pace. The problem is, even a record pace doesn’t seem fast enough when matched against the enormity of the problem. That being said, I continue to be very wary of any grand government plan that would somehow speed up the corrective process that residential real estate cannot avoid. The market mechanism for re-allocating the ownership of REO’s is working as well as can be expected under the circumstances. For example, in the Las Vegas real estate market cash investors account for roughly half of all transactions for over two years now and counting. The demand is there and the supply is available and the transactions are occurring at a very steady pace. How much more can you push the process without distorting the picture and doing more harm than good? Something to think about …