Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Licensed Building Practitioners

This will quite simply cause a polarisation in the market. Most repair/maintenance can be made to look as though it's always been there. So goodbye LBP's, consents, the swinging fees and official scrutiny for this type of work. Who could ever tell that it had happened at all? I recall saying something to this effect years ago....

There simply won't be any point in the middle-level type of extensions, alterations etc. By the time you've stumped up for the engineer, the LBP'ed foundation guy, the LBP'ed structural builder, the LBP'ed interior carpenter, the LBP'ed roofie, the LBP'ed exterior plasterer, the LBP'ed brickie or blockie, the LBP'ed Site Manager, the building consent fee, the inspections fees (one per trade needed!), not to mention the materials (remember them?), the supervisions, the architect if'n yer really stupid, and the resource consent if yer neighbours get a fit of the Nimby's, why, it will be much simpler to give the old dump the flick and buy something closer to what you actually want.

I think this is called 'Unintended Consequences'.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Councils and Time Value of Money

The issue with Councils and bureaucrats in general can be traced to three interlocking aspects, which together have over the years created the leisurely, process-and-rule bound, risk-averse culture we are now seeing.

1 - no revenue reponsibility. Council rates, fees and levies are non-contestable. They can be pencilled in at budget time and arrive on schedule. Guaranteed revenues mean that all Council staff have quite literally no connection with their financing. It is simply taken for granted, like the sunrise.

2 - no concept of time=money. Councils can inject time into processes without paying any monetary penalty. Their hapless customers still have to pay their mortgages, working capital overdrafts, consultants fees and staff. So every day that a Council injects into a process - has a direct and proportionate cost to the affected customer. Heck, Councils even 'stop the clock' when counting days elapsed for a consent. But the customers' Bankers don't.

3 - Council staff are answerable only to the CEO, and the CEO is a Council's (in the elected sense of members around the table) only employee. So there is no direct connection between anything which Councillors might think, want, or do, and the effect on staff. For all practical purposes staff are completely immune to Councillor influence.

So if the staff continue to with-hold, delay, defer, ignore or otherwise foobar the rebuild, just exactly what can be done about it, given all of the above?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Housing yet again

Housing affordability has five components:

1 - cost of land.

2 - cost of building - and as NZ is well under scale, and hence has hopelessly overpriced materials: it's still worth going to the States and filling a 40' container and paying GST plus duty on the contents: most materials are around 20% of the NZ converted cost.

3 - time taken - as time=money - the 'carry' can be significant even for a single build.

4 - credit availability and terms.

5 - Household income levels

The stoopid Councils contribute directly to #1 and #3, the craft nature of building in NZ and the lack of scale accounts for #2, and Gummint policy affects #4 and #5.

In 2001, in Christchurch, it was possible to buy a doer-upper for well south of $50K, in the non-leafy suburbs. By 2003, the same house was x3. What changed?

In 2002 the Labour Gummint, trying to be nice to the hopeless, introduced a guaranteed $100K credit line. Qualification for this was simple: 'can you fog a mirror?'.

Instant result in Chch - every single price in shall we say the structurally challenged house class went up overnight by, spookily enough, that same amount.

So there's the Gummint's little push to unaffordability. #4 shows that easing credit adds to prices. Whodathunk?

And finally #5: the rise of credentialism, soft degrees like media, art and music, and the constant repetition of the mantra 'education gets you up in the world', have all lead to a situation of inflated expectations, but same old employment choices. And now the GFC has commenced a winnowing of the crop: only the truly useful souls can look forward to even a moderate income: the hopeless are condemned to menial jobs or the dole, and as has been the case throughout human history, the well-off are quite capable of looking after themselves. Average incomes are static in nominal terms, and falling in real. As Glenn Reynolds notes:

"The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay in, the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them. One might as well try to promote basketball skills by distributing expensive sneakers."

Oh, and there is no political way out of this, because there are more Tax Consumers than Tax Producers, and the Consumers can, have and will outvote the Producers when push comes to shove. The middle class vote has been purchased by WFF, and despite their occasional unease, they'll stay bought.

So there in a nutshell is the bind we're in. And as any solution involves a choice between the hard way out, and the really hard way out, I don't see much will move until it has to. As the saying goes: what cannot go on forever, won't.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Urban Land prices in GodZone

A word about Development Contributions.

I'm an old grizzled ex-County Treasurer who actually used to administer these babies in the good old days before the dopey Sandra Lee LG Act 2002 injected 'Social and Cultural Wellbeings' into Councils spending arena.

DC's were really about public open space: land, reserves and the like. A simple cash amount, which was held in trust and applied only to reserves, was the norm, and/or a parcel or three of land set aside.

Nowadays, DC's have an incredibly complex calculation: Household Unit Equivalents (bit like the the Twenty' Equivalent Unit (TEU) measure for shipping container space) for almost everything a Council could conceivably dream up cost requirements for.

Recall that every legal human activity can fit within 'Social and Cultural Wellbeing', so naturally, there are Community Development Organisers, Events Planners, Reserves Consultators and dont even get me started on spatial planners, zonerators and other failed architects - all to be fed, housed, and their reports to each other and to the Council to be read and discussed with a straight face. All to be 'contributed' to....and then there are 'hard' spends like roading/water/sewer/drainage incremental impacts to be funded

The net impact of DC's (e.g. for an upcoming major Chch subdivision) is huge - $70K/section. And this impact is upfront - pay now, and this adds at the earliest stage, almost, to the hapless developer's carrying costs ('the carry').

At a commercial credit line rate (making the maths easy) of 10%pa, and a conception-to-first-sale time of 7 years, the rule-of-72 says that that $70K is now $140K. Yup, it has doubled.

See now why land prices in urban subdivisions are sky-high? Add everything together, recalling that those costs earliest on the list generate the highest carrying costs:

- land purchase
- 'carry' on land purchase cost
- survey and consents
- 'carry' on survey/consenting costs
- DC
- 'carry' on DC
- physical land development - civil works
- 'carry' on civil works
- sales and marketing costs
- developer margin
- and I've probably left a few cost items out....

and then ask:

1 - why anyone would be in this game?
2 - And for those brave enough to be there, why section prices are where they are?

The answer to 2 is - because of zoning (original purchase price inflated), the Social and Cultural well-beings (DC's inflated) , and the fact that Council staff have no concept of time=money ('carry' inflated)

After all, the Council staff don't have to carry the 'carry'.....so why not let that consent dawdle in the in-box for another month or six?

Now if the Wellbeings were deep-sixed, yer jest might have yerself a whole new ball game....keep watching!