Earlier in the week, I read articles discussing Facebook's $100 billion dollar valuation. There are two ways to look at Facebook. The glossy view is that Facebook has 500+ million users and that the company controls a significant share of Internet traffic. This traffic will be monetized and make it the largest advertising and marketing company in the world. The not so glossy view is that Facebook is nothing more than a repackaged version of America Online. At its peak, America Online had 30 million paying subscribers and a market cap of $240 billion. While Facebook has a lot more subscribers, each user is not paying $15-30 per month. Not only does a subscriber model provide real revenue, but it means you have 30 million paying users. People paying for a service are real users. In contrast, Facebook is free and we therefore have to question how many of the 500+ million are actually real users.
Isn't Facebook just an evolved version of AOL?
I do not currently have a ton of interest in the stock market. The opportunity cost of actively managing my money exceeds any return I can make. I can't win. My personal situation aside, yesterday I was thinking about the market and the economy from a long term perspective. While the market gyrates on the daily, weekly and monthly chart, the stock market has been lousy for the past 10 years. We've been stuck in neutral.
Whether you are leasing or purchasing, there are a ton of online tools available. You may be familiar with Craigslist, Hotpads, Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia (in no particular order). I previously wrote a post about the problem with Craigslist spam in the Austin listings and the benefit of using an aggregator such as Hotpads. I have learned the ropes a bit since writing that post. I still love Hotpads, but it does have its limitations. In this post, I will share tips on locating a house to lease or purchase using online tools.
I mentioned in a prior post that my wife and I are looking to rent a house. We are moving from Dallas to Austin and the rental market in Austin is tight. It is definitely a landlord's market in the areas we are looking at and we don't have time to buy a place. In Austin, houses tend to trade on the Texas Association of Realtors Residential Lease Form (TAR-2001).
One clause that anyone renting a house using the TAR form should look at closely is the Keybox provision in Section 14D of the TAR form. Most renters expect a lease heavily favoring the landlord, but this keybox clause takes "pro-landlord" to an entirely new level. I call it the "have one's cake and eat it too clause." The landlord collects rental income, but also expects to market the property during your occupancy of the property. And not just market the property, but market it by installing a keybox device on your front door. Not only does the clause open up your rental home to various realtors with an access code, but the realtor is bringing strangers into your home. A stranger could be a child predator, thief or other dubious actor "checking out the place."
For those interested in learning about some of the nuances of drafting a deed, attached is a short article (five pages) discussing implied covenants, title warranties, preserving title insurance, vendor's liens and some examples of “why just filling in the names and attaching a legal description may get you in trouble.”
My wife and I are happy renters, but we are in need of a larger place and are searching for a house to rent. If you hate spam, you will hate searching for a house or an apartment. Craigslist is a good resource but it is tiring to sift through the listings because of all the spammy ads. For example, apartment brokers will use keywords to make their ads show up even if it is not related to the area of town you are searching. If you filter by price, the ads include all price points and thus many listings that do not meet your parameters show up. Other websites such as Realtor.com also have been corrupted. I try searching by neighborhood and I get a ton of listings from other parts of town. Google searching and clicking links on Craigslist also will send you to a ton of spammy websites promoting apartments and rentals. These websites generally have almost no utility and it feels like nats circling your head as you search for a place.
There are two worlds out there. US Treasuries yields are not rising. The government controlled 30-year mortgage continues to trade under 5% even though no creditor would ever loan money on a single tenant building (which is effectively what a house is) with little or no equity (and in many states on a non-recourse basis) at such a low rate without a government guaranty or government purchase of the debt. Bonds (LQD, HYG, JNK) and high yielding sectors such as REITs (IYR) and Utilities (XLU), which are tied to the risk-free rate, also show no signs of impending doom.
Contrast bond yields with commodities such as oil ($WTIC), gold ($GOLD),silver ($SILVER) as well as agriculture (DBA and COW). If you thought gold was moving up fast, take a look at silver (the $DXY chart is available at barcharts.com and the other charts are available at stockcharts.com).
Is this really so surprising? If you knew your dollars would be
worthless worth less tomorrow, where would you put your money? An asset such as oil that people are willing to kill and fight wars over sounds like a pretty good pick. Precious metals, while not technically currencies, are really the only widely accepted forms of money available if you are avoiding fiat currencies. Food is going up as well, but it is difficult to determine whether it is purely a function of oil without a deeper analysis. Even used cars are appreciating.
Last night my wife and I tuned into American Idol for about 10 minutes before turning it off. We have done this routine three or four times during Season 10. The show is really boring with Simon gone. I think we keep hoping that we'll tune in and that he'll be there.
This morning I was thinking about Facebook and whether it has jumped the shark. Unlike a TV show, Facebook won't die. But has it reached its apex?
I started using Facebook three or four years ago. When I first signed up, it was interesting to find old friends and acquaintances and learn what they were up to. It was also a way to keep up with distant relatives. The iPhone started to go mainstream causing friends to post from their phone "eating breakfast" and other things that nobody cares about. However, these posts were generally ok because there were other posts of value about people having kids and other life events important to your friends and family.
As Facebook continued to grow, I started to receive friend requests from people that I didn't know or that were too distant to share my personal Facebook page with. Like many people, I decided I wanted my privacy and I closed off my profile to the world. I'm out there on the Internet if anyone really wants to find me. Within the past year or so, my Facebook stream has become filled with noise. Many of the people that did write posts that were interesting to me seem to be bored with the service. Just like bloggers fizzle out after the initial joy of publishing to the world, it seems that people fizzle out using Facebook.
The void has in part been filled with advertising from friends. We've all become social media gurus. At first, I found it interesting to see marketing from friends and family about their business. But after the initial interest, I grew tired of reading posts about a deal a buddy is offering on widgets in Orlando (or telling me to join some group that will send me more spam). I started hiding people to filter the noise, but I then realized that I had filtered out almost all of the activity in my stream. I even had to filter out my brother for a short while. The networking that Facebook originally offered has been replaced with spam. The spam might be from people that I like, but it is still spam. While others may have a different experience, my Facebook experience peaked a while back. I never used Facebook very often, but I now only access it for a second or two on my phone when I'm out somewhere and looking for something to occupy my time (and after I have read the news, Google Reader, Twitter, etc).
Today I attended Cushman & Wakefield's Commercial Real Estate Market Update at the Dallas Bar Association. Below are some of the more salient points:
Nationally, leasing activity is up 31.6% year over year in CBDs and up 20.2% in suburbs year over year.
The leasing market still generally favors tenants, but pricing is stabilizing and incentives such as free rent and tenant improvements allowances are being reduced.