There are actually two home builders shows going on in the Orlando area this week. One is for the masses, one is not. The one for the masses is a building product and marketplace marketplace, education program, and portable 24/7 party--the event is the rougher, tougher, somewhat underfed kid sibling of the home builders show that has taken place on this site around this time of year for the past four years. The new products are here, and those who'll want or need them to develop and build the 500,000 to 700,000 single family homes that will actually deliver to home buyers over the next year or so are as keen as ever to put these new products and processes to work. The people here, but for their diminished ranks, walk and talk and learn just like they've been doing by coming to the event during the boom years; and they're attending a lot of sessions that are about "green" building and about surviving as a builder. The relationship between the two is still left somewhat to the imagination of the beholder.
The other home builders show, mostly offsite, is happening at a nearby high-end hotel. There are no booths, no demonstrations, no Powerpoints, no little logo-ed promotional premiums to walk away with. Here's what there are: Suits, drinks, hearty laughter, lots of slaps on the back, business card exchanges, and promises to reconnect, mostly in New York. Among the denizens there are David Matlin, a principal at MatlinPatterson Global Advisors, and Art Falcone, who's re-entered Florida's home building arena with a company called Americrest, that looks in its near-term future footprint uncannily similar to Transeastern, the company that brought TOUSA to its knees. There's also sovereign wealth money in clear evidence; and overseas family money galore.
Not so different than the home builders streaming through the miles of aisles on the convention center floor, these other folks are trolling in a market too. They're part of dozens of separate organizations who have tapped the still-enormous supplies of global liquidity to assemble funds now poised to pounce at a to-be-determined moment that we'll only be sure about well after it's past. Scores of billions of dollars are at the ready, and they're marked specifically for investment in residential real estate. Some time between the next wave of land impairments and the subsequent repricing to market that take place, a few home buyers will start to think that "now is the time." By the time that instant occurs, the high-roller vultures will have landed.
Many of the production home building companies that are hanging on by a thread will face a moment of reckoning. They're going to watch foreclosures mount up and add inventory to their markets; they're not going to be able to predict when they'll be able to kick start they're sales; and they're going to continue to have bank payments to make to comply with their loan covenants. They're going to have to finally roll the dice on when the turn will occur and cash will become visible. They're going to have to answer that question, because many, many of them will have hit an endgame with stretching terms on their construction loans, and bank regulators will be in pressuring the lenders to put their houses in order, and the company's going to have to try to get money at a much higher cost to make a final play to reach the other side of this. They're counting down in days, not weeks or months.
The moment hasn't come for the vultures to land, quite yet. But vultures tend to circle before they land. It's part of the nature of the beast, and their prey know it. Pennies on the dollar and a quick return timeline and exit. That's what comes next. Just wait for the data to come in about actual as opposed to supposed foreclosure rates as ARMs reset in a more favorable interest rate environment--as soon as there's a conclusive indication there, you'll see the frenzy begin.
Meanwhile, at the other home builders show there looks to be a healthy disregard for all that high-finance nonsense. Or maybe unhealthy.