May 19, 2019

Unbundling real estate

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

There's a lot of risk in real estate. Just owning it, of course, is the main risk. It can work out well for people lucky enough to be able to put a small down payment on a house before it soars in value.

Why it matters: Real estate can also cause a global financial crisis, should millions of Americans find themselves underwater on their mortgages.

Driving the news: Wall Street is increasingly looking for ways to take on these risks. Companies like Point will buy an equity stake in your home, while Zillow and Opendoor will take on the risk of finding a buyer, giving you an up-front cash payment for your house, no staging or repainting necessary. Often, the houses they buy end up getting rented out by giant Wall Street landlords, rather than being sold to individuals.

  • Redfin is trying out a similar approach for buyers, moving toward a future where house hunters can buy entirely online.
  • The entrenched system of 6% brokerage commissions is being taken to court, with Redfin's CEO describing the existing MLS cartel as a dinosaur about to be hit by an asteroid.

What we’re seeing: WeWork was designed to be asset-light, renting out office space and then subleasing it to smaller tenants. Now, seeing demand for real estate risk, it has created a sister company, ARK, to buy up the buildings it's renting in. Investors get to choose exactly which risk they're interested in.

  • The government is also in the business of reallocating real estate risk to revitalize depressed urban areas. University of Georgia law professor Mehrsa Baradaran has proposed a "Homestead Act for the 21st Century" that would give abandoned properties to local residents without needing to create financier-friendlyOpportunity Zones.

The big picture: De-risking homeownership has always made sense. That's why the government created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. If Silicon Valley financiers lose money by taking on these risks, well, they can afford to. And if they can find a way to efficiently renovate homes at scale, that could save more than money, it could save marriages.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to less than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 5,401,701 — Total deaths: 345,060 — Total recoveries — 2,149,407Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 1,643,238 — Total deaths: 97,720 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

President Trump doubled down on his push to reopen schools, tweeting late Sunday: "Schools in our country should be opened ASAP."

Zoom in: Trump pushed back on NIAD Director Anthony Fauci cautioning against the move earlier this month, calling his concerns "not an acceptable answer."