Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Real Reasons Why Real Estate is So Expensive in Trinidad & Tobago

A persistent cry by many young and middle aged professionals is that real estate prices are just way to high especially on a small to medium income budget. Why have prices continued to rise so severely? 

Simple demand and supply dynamics can help explain this. Here are a few reasons that often go unexplained:

 1. Onerous Inefficient Regulatory System Severely Stymies The Supply of Homes

The lengthy and inefficient Town and Country and Regional Corporation approval process which takes on average about one year deters prospective home builders from building homes. This has the effect of restricting supply consequently decreasing the stock of homes available on the market. Prices are therefore forced upward because existing homes become more scarce and prices are bid up by prospective home purchasers.



Moreover how many more homes and buildings could have been constructed were they not being held up by the snail's pace approval process. Not only is the country denied the increased stock of houses but it is denied  all the legitimate employment and commercial activity that would have followed i.e. construction employment, cement sales, steel, sand, aggregate, plumbing supplies, roofing, mortgage loans etc. Institutionalized bureaucracy places hidden but significant drag on housing supply.

2. Economic Crowding Out

When construction materials are are demanded by an institution with deep pockets such as the state to build unnecessarily big infrastructure projects: tall buildings, poorly built houses that have to be torn down and rebuilt etc. it causes increased prices.

Consider that available construction material and labour is finite, and when government enters the market for construction material and labour the state is actually competing against private individuals for access to these finite resources the end result are increases in home construction costs.



Private construction is therefore crowded out which could have been done cheaper, faster and to the specific tastes and preferences of individual citizens. Ironically the construction prices the tax payer pays is bid up by his/her tax dollars when trying to build a home.

3. The Illegal Drug Trade - Money Laundering

Investment in real estate is a popular technique of concealing the source of money obtained by illicit means. A classic approach is to purchase real estate with illegal proceeds and subsequently dispose of the asset. The proceeds from the disposal thereby appear to outsiders to be legitimate income. Real estate may also be used as an investment vehicle to park illicit gains for the short to medium term.



4. Money Supply Expansion - Inflating Real Estate Prices

A major reason real estate prices have been going up rapidly is because the Central Government by way of the Central Bank has constantly been increasing the money supply. This serves to inflate all prices including real estate prices.



The problem is made exponentially worse when commercial banks in turn use the consequent increased bank deposits to create additional credit or purchasing power further bidding up prices. Worse yet when there is no increase in productivity or output. This phenomena is not only present in the housing market but also in overall price levels throughout the country. We therefore have a few more houses being chased by a lot more TT dollars.



5. Very Real Inflationary Concerns

As alluded to above there is significant excess liquidity (cash and cash equivalents) slushing around in the economy looking for a home consequently, a significant portion of these funds end up in real estate pushing up real estate prices since this asset class is viewed as an inflationary hedge and a potential income generating asset.



Moreover because of the limited availability of attractive investment options in Trinidad excess funds naturally flow into real estate as a safe investment vehicle especially when instinctively people suspect inflation to be already here or on the horizon. This further stokes demand for real estate and real estate prices.

87 comments:

  1. You gave a good analysis here. But I'm not so sure that it adequately explains the serious imbalance between housing prices and incomes. The fact is the majority of Trinidadians are now priced out of the housing market. So I don't understand how "prices are bid up by prospective home purchasers." Who are these prospective home buyers? The wealthy? How many homes can they afford/want to own?

    Also, I didn't follow your crowding out argument. Governments all over the world build buildings, roads, etc, but I don't see runaway housing prices in many other countries, even when they face some of the other forces in your analysis.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think the prospective home buyers may indeed be the wealthy or well of, who can purchase the homes and then rent it out to middle income earners, thus creating an income producing investment for themselves (the wealthy).

    The crowding out argument, specific to Trinidad, I believe relates to the possible scarcity (within Trinidad) of construction materials.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for your comments. I agree that the majority of Trinbagonians are priced out of the market. Perhaps to say prices are bid up by prospective “real estate buyers or investors” rather than "home purchasers" might be more accurate.

    To further clarify, prospective buyers are essentially person not trapped in fixed income situations i.e. salaried workers, pensioners, daily paid workers etc. Persons bestowed with the purchasing power include the politically well connected, major contractors, the banks and their inner circle, the business community etc. In this scenario most Trinbagonians are therefore excluded from the real estate market.

    To answer another point, because T&T has also not seen a commensurate increase in productivity related to the extensive infrastructure spending (not investment) less is produced even whilst more dollars are in the system chasing a limited quantum of goods.

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  6. Thanks for your readership...
    Please continue to share.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You will find some well prepared mortgage information at the Central Bank of TT site. the document title is: The Residential Mortgage Market in Trinidad and Tobago.

    Keep an eye open for CWS Construction Division who will be constructing sub $799,000 2-Bedroom 1.5 Bath homes at a high quality with all rooms fitted out and with 24/7 Water and lighting and with your legal fees and Property Tax returned to you on move in day...A customer is for life is the policy of that organisation...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great the more supply of homes on the market the better for consumers.

      Hopefully this effort is not stymied by Town and Country, Regional Corporation or some other state bureaucracy

      Delete
  8. Trinidad is such a wonderful and blessed country and it aches each of us that despite BILLIONS of dollars of natural mineral wealth dug out of the ground each year for a meager population barely exceeding a million people, it remains mired in mediocrity. Having travelled the world and been privileged to see how the world works and human nature in general, i have come to believe it is the maximalist politicians and politics that has fostered a culture of dependency and complacency, rather than one of innovation, industry and entrepreneurship. It is not that it cannot be inculcated or even imported, it is that it is intentionally killed by small minded politics, people who will not lead, or educate people the right way, as their political self interest is not served by doing so. One hope is the internet, which is an excellent opportunity for people to think beyond what they are merely told. This blog speaks truth, and heck even I as untrusting of gov't as I am, as fully cognizant of free market principles as I am, and as well versed with goings on here as I am, learnt new things.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Trinidad is such a wonderful and blessed country and it aches each of us that despite BILLIONS of dollars of natural mineral wealth dug out of the ground each year for a meager population barely exceeding a million people, it remains mired in mediocrity. Having travelled the world and been privileged to see how the world works and human nature in general, i have come to believe it is the maximalist politicians and politics that has fostered a culture of dependency and complacency, rather than one of innovation, industry and entrepreneurship. It is not that it cannot be inculcated or even imported, it is that it is intentionally killed by small minded politics, people who will not lead, or educate people the right way, as their political self interest is not served by doing so. One hope is the internet, which is an excellent opportunity for people to think beyond what they are merely told. This blog speaks truth, and heck even I as untrusting of gov't as I am, as fully cognizant of free market principles as I am, and as well versed with goings on here as I am, learnt new things.

    ReplyDelete
  10. your analysis is great. Trinidad should learn from the housing bubble in the USA. Time to cut inflation and help people save. Make it easier for investment in housing projects, that would increase supply, bring more work, and make the price burden less harsh. Does the oil production have anything to do with price inflation? Do you see any signs of hyper inflation to come or even deflation?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Why do i have to pay bridging finance THEN go into a mortgage when building a home? Seems dishonest to me just like having to pay Third Party insurance.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I really do not understand why i can't just qualify for x amount borrow that to build my and repay it just like any other loan. The idea of bridging is not right. And getting Third Party insurance on your car is also not right nor honest. How is it no one raises yhese issues?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Nice, succint and accurate. I especially agree about T&C, when sellers have to put a price, they understandably mark it up for all the extra hassel.

    ReplyDelete
  14. reason for high real estate is no property taxes are impose hereby there is no price control over the housing market. If you house is worth 2 million they should pay the tax on it that 2 million every year and you will see how that price will fall like bricks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, however imposing a property tax would increase the cost of homeownership and make owning a home even more challenging for the "middle class or poor".

      In addition rental rates will also go up immediately as landlords would pass on most of these cost to renters who are typically the less affluent in society.

      Prices in of itself are not evil all prices do is send a signal and communicate perceived value. If that value is being distorted by government you should be aiming to remove the cause of the distortion.

      Despite what they taught us in school as a rule of thumb government is typically always the problem not the solution.

      Keep those comments coming!

      Delete
    2. I agree with some of what Blacklion is saying...property tax should come back but there should also be some type of agency which oversees the rental system to ensure that renters are not ALWAYS bending over hand over fist! Some kind of rental guide book should be in place ...something similar to consumer affairs where renters can report exhorbitant rental increases etc....It might not solve everything but right now renters are making a killing off the poor

      Delete
  15. I recently built my home and I did not wait a year for approvals all bodies take 2 weeks for approvals and its only 2 the regional corporation and town and country so please don't miss lead it would only take longer if you flaunt the regulations

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