Real estate is recovering – so what’s next?

Mark Stapp

As job numbers and consumer spending begin to rise post-recession, the real estate market also is starting to recover. But will we see a repeat of massive growth, skyrocketing prices and cookie-cutter homes? One expert from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University analyzes likely future trends.

“We have a lot of people looking at the same real estate data and making decisions at the same time,” explains Mark Stapp, the Fred E. Taylor Professor in Real Estate and director of the Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “This is how markets wind up with overbuilding and speculation, but I’m actually hopeful that won’t happen in the Phoenix metro area this time. After the recent bust, real estate professionals are paying more attention to differentiating projects and focusing more on users’ wants and values. Also, lenders are enforcing more discipline.”

Stapp says the Phoenix area is one of the markets with the most abundant real estate data available. On the residential side, Stapp is seeing the emergence of different products to meet people’s changing needs.

“We’re watching the development of new luxury apartments that are big enough to comfortably house families,” says Stapp, who is both a real estate developer and who teaches real estate to mid-level professionals. “Many former homeowners have either decided to get out of the single-family home market because of their recent experiences, or they simply can’t buy another home because of credit issues. Renting may be their best alternative.”

In addition, Stapp says it’s tough to get many existing homeowners to sell their houses with prices still down from the peak; they don’t want to lose money. Therefore, developers are introducing new alternatives that might be appealing. They’re integrating more sustainable, energy- and money-saving features. They’re also trying out new designs that appeal to changing lifestyles.

“Real estate is a service business, and developers have to deliver what the customers want,” says Stapp. “We’re already seeing more interest in new-home sales, and developers are getting creative. For example, there’s a very modern Dutch-designed model home from a major local builder. In the past, a risk like that would have been shunned in favor of more cookie-cutter homes that all look similar.”

Developers also are focusing on filling in desirable areas already close to roads and development, instead of building on the outskirts, where new homeowners may be reluctant to live. The median home price in the Phoenix area is already up 25 percent from this time last year, and new-home sales are up more than 40 percent. Plus, Stapp says, it won’t be that long for many of those who filed for bankruptcy and/or lost their homes to foreclosure to get back into the market.

“The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) all allow people who’ve filed for bankruptcy to get loans after several years,” explains Stapp. “Some developers are planning for that now, since it takes around two years from start to finish on these building projects.”

On the commercial side, Stapp says office-space needs have permanently changed. Thanks to advancements in technology and more forced productivity from fewer employees, more people and equipment can now fit into the same amount of office space. Also, some older buildings just don’t have the right configuration for modern equipment, and parking may be lacking. Therefore, Stapp thinks it will take longer for this sector to recover. However, he feels industrial space is already back in pretty good shape in the Phoenix area, though the situation is fragile.

“If they pull the trigger on too many projects, it will be like overgrazing,” says Stapp. “We don’t want to overbuild again, which would ruin the market for everyone.”

Stapp would like to see a little more regional development planning, plus a good look at the current property-tax structure. He also advocates more self-control.

“Hopefully, the recent fall has instilled a sense of discipline in the real estate community,” concludes Stapp. “Making money in real estate has always been about transactions – buying and selling. Banks make money when they loan; architects make money when they design; construction crews make money when they build. We all have to start putting more time into thinking and planning, even if that means postponing a pay day.”

Stapp is one of the industry experts teaching in the one-year Master of Real Estate Development program at the W. P. Carey School of Business. The program immerses students in the various facets of real estate development, including business, law, design and construction. For more information about the MRED program, visit