Source: Insider —
On a hot July day seven years ago, Jonathan Miller took his 29-foot Hydra-Sports powerboat out into the Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut.
The boat smelled like sea salt from his recent lobster-fishing trip. The water in the estuary was clear and calm. Miller and his wife, Cheryl, were enjoying the sunshine when his iPhone rang.
The call was from a journalist at an international paper asking for Miller’s comment on the US housing market for a story.
“I didn’t even tell them I was on a boat, just that I didn’t have my laptop handy if they needed numbers, he said.
This, Miller said, was one of the strangest places he has ever answered a call from a journalist.
But for those who know Miller, it’s not strange at all.
The 62-year-old founder of the real-estate-appraisal and data firm Miller Samuel is probably the most-quoted man in real estate, with some 2,469 news citations, according to the database LexisNexis. After all, he releases monthly and quarterly housing-sales and rental reports on behalf of Douglas Elliman in 14 different markets across the country — and has done so for the last 27 years.
Especially now, when relatively high mortgage rates, rapidly declining demand, and even scarily dipping home prices are battering the market, Miller has steered the public through it all and provided accurate information so that both industry veterans and regular people can understand what the heck is going on with residential real estate — and make important life decisions accordingly. His nontraditional background — he’s an appraiser, not an economist — puts him in a unique position to translate what can be a jargon-filled and opaque topic for the masses.
He’s ready for the challenge.
Impartiality is crucial to Miller’s success
Miller is a polymath: he has guided Floridians through understanding how Miami could adjust and profit off of the influx of New York-based buyers in 2020; he’s predicted how a downtown Manhattan office-turned-condo building could cause a surplus of residences for sale that will push down sales prices in the area for years to come; and in the spring, he explained the impact of the ultra-luxury market on real estate in the bougie ski destination of Aspen, Colorado.
His most relevant hot take right now isn’t even that hot: Miller opposes the idea that the US housing market will crash now the way it did during the Great Recession. Like many of his peers, he argues that there are too few properties on the market compared to those seeking homes for that to happen, and that the market varies too much locally.
‘When things are bad, I say they’re bad’
His honesty has not always been welcome.
In the years that preceded the Great Recession, he said, he had to start requiring mortgage-broker clients working for banks to pay his company before the appraisal because so many refused to pay if they did not get the valuation they wanted.
In order to attract and keep business, other appraisers would assess properties higher than their actual value in New York City, he said. One time, he even saw a luxury condo appraised at $15 million over its actual value.
“We weren’t morally flexible,” he said. “And that made us a pariah for mortgage brokers.”
So Miller Samuel had to pivot away from relying so heavily on institutional players, which had made up 75% of its business. He instead started catering to individuals who needed appraisals, like private lawyers or co-op boards, to keep the company from going under, Miller said.
But days after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2008, the tide changed.