One of the nation’s leading luxury home builders, The Toll Brothers (TOL), reported a doubling of profits on a 50% surge in revenues in their quarterly earnings report yesterday. Should numbers like this give investors the confidence to proclaim the housing officially “back?” Probably not, but it’s yet another step in the right direction says Jeff Saut of Raymond James.
“It [the housing market] has clearly slowed to some degree but I think it is going to re-surge here in the next 12-18 months,” Saut says. He uses evidence from his home state of Florida, one hit particularly hard in the housing crisis, to back up his thesis.
“A lot of people were worried that the private equity firms like Blackstone aren’t actively purchasing homes. They bought over a billion dollars worth of homes here in the St. Pete/Tampa area and the fact of the matter is the supply of foreclosed and short sale homes has come down a lot. There’s not that much available anymore.”
What about borrowing? Many are still convinced that banks aren’t loaning the way they should to get the housing market moving again. Not so says Saut. He notes that prime mortgages are on the rise as banks have eased their standards.
Real estate author and expert Shari Olefson agrees at least in part noting, "I'm seeing consistent signs of that from clients and other sources on the front lines, but the impact is not significant in the numbers yet.
It will take a full QM (qualified mortgage) regulatory cycle for lenders to get comfortable with how regulator/auditors will judge their compliance attempts."
In addition to more favorable lending conditions, surging rents are also making the decision to buy that much easier. Still, Saut admits “If a household is making $70,000-75,000 or less it is very tough to get 20% down, it is tougher to get mortgages.” That, however, may be changing.”A lot of the private equity people that bought these homes four and five years ago are actually going to be coming to market with them,” Saut notes, “and my guess is they will be in the business of trying to finance some of them for the 200,000 price point homes and down.”
He also notes that new homes may soon be catering to lower price points as well. D.R. Horton (DHI), one of the nation’s largest home builders has launched an “express” program to build lower cost, “no frills” housing for those that can’t afford the luxury homes that are the specialty of the Toll Brothers.
Taken together Saut says the one big theme in all this is that financing is not as crucial a hurdle to the market as it has been, hence his optimistic call over the next year and a half.