The hosts of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” radio program recently interviewed Sam Zell, founder and chair of Equity Group Investments based in Chicago. Zell, a self made billionaire, is also known as “The Grave Dancer” for his opportunistic vision of distressed properties. Per usual, Zell’s mind, insights and remarks were scattered with brilliance, straight talk and good humor.
Zell, of course, was asked about the state of the US housing market today. He responded by saying that higher prices and lower demand reflect a “changed housing market,” a market where demand is down and prices remain high…a market “…that doesn’t necessarily make sense…” in his view.
Zell reminded listeners that in 2005, approximately 70% of the population owned homes. In 2016, only 63% of the population owned homes. Zell attributes this decline in homeownership to the living and buying habits of Millennials, specifically people under 30 years of age.
At the same time, Zell sees the living and buying habits of Millennials (delaying marriage, delaying parenthood and saving money) as opportunities for real estate. “This means we have a huge group of people with enormous disposable income that we need to address and deal with as customers. I think that eventually, this huge group of people will buy houses and have children but, (they will do it all) with a more connected-to-the-center-of-the city approach.”
Another factor impacting the housing market, according to Zell, is the fact that “…our savings rate is down to historical lows. If you don’t have savings,” says Zell, “you don’t make down payments.”
Zell’s mention of lack of savings is contradictory to his statement about Millennials having “enormous disposable income.” So, which is it?
The data backs up Zell’s statement about lack of savings. Earlier this year, the NBC News/GenForward survey that focused in on Millennial debt reported that 3 out of 4 Millennials have some kind of indebtedness. The study indicated that 62% of Millennials have more debt than personal savings and that their credit card debt is more prevalent than their student debt.
This lack of savings issue is common to all segments of the population, not just Millennials. Multiple sources tell us that 40% of the population does not have $500 in savings to pay for unanticipated emergencies.
Back to Sam Zell and his insights into the housing market. The man sees opportunities to make money everywhere. Even if the “changed housing market…doesn’t necessarily make sense…” it makes sense to pay attention to his thoughts concerning “…a more-connected-to-the-center-of-the-city approach” to residential real estate.