What does the election mean for real estate?

It can give us a chance to look at our communities and determine how we can improve them


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I have sat down to start this column a half-dozen times. Each time I wish I had written it before the election! Like most (if not all) of the pundits, I did not see the eventual results.

For months I have been sharing with friends throughout the Northeast that many parts of the country did not share their worldview. I was thinking of recent trips to North and South Carolina, as well as rural Maryland and Pennsylvania, not to mention a national meeting of the Counselors of Real Estate in September. This tends to be a conservative group, especially a fiscally conservative group.

One presenter said, “There are 162 of you in this room. If I were to ask for a show of hands (who you intend to vote for) I would guess I would see 130 for Hillary and 32 for Donald. But if we time-traveled ahead to Election Day and I conducted an exit poll with you, I would expect it to be much more like 90 for Hillary and 72 for Donald.”

Sitting at the side of the room, I was able to glance across and see many heads gently nodding in agreement.

President-elect Trump is in for a grueling time. The halls of government are both lethargic and sclerotic - nothing moves fast. As we used to say in the middle of the last century, the pace of change will be like molasses running uphill in January.

Needless to say, the day after the election, I was discouraged to see the Dow Jones futures average down over 800 points. Alas, it bounced back. For those who fear or worry about Donald's rhetoric, he has no mandate, nor does he have a coalition to advance sweeping change.

Yes, he will reverse many presidential/executive orders and he will likely get some conservative Supreme Court Justices. But will he blow up the ACA (Obamacare)? Not likely. Change it? Modify it? Yes, sure. We in New Hampshire had Craig Benson, a non-political conservative governor. He tried but could not move the needle very much and essentially gave up.

As I shared with my son and daughter, we survived eight years of Bush II and the conservative Republicans trying to drag us to the right. Then we have survived eight years of Obama and the Democrats trying to drag it to the left. So I would say the system is not broke, but it is not exactly firing on all cylinders either!

My quiet hope is that the many disparate groups can come together to facilitate term limits (this will be done at the state level, not through a constitutional amendment) and campaign spending limits. Over $120 million spent in the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race – come on! Limit candidates to $10 million each. Tell them to visit all 200 towns, hold three debates and let's vote!

Consider what good we could have done with $100 million (besides making the media giants and junk mail advertisers rich).

What does this have to do with commercial real estate? Plenty. Federal rules, regulations and legislation affect housing policy and funding. Dodd-Frank needs to be pared back. It is choking our smaller community banks.

Jobs! We need to reshuffle the deck. This is not entirely a federal or national responsibility. It is a community-wide endeavor. College debt is choking our younger generations. Is there a fix or way out? We need to foster trades, manufacturing and other “light blue collar” jobs. Not every 22-year-old in America should be a college graduate. The cost-benefit analysis no longer supports this proposition. The challenge is that 17-22 year olds for the most part have no idea what they want to do over their 40-50 year working career. Nor should they.

Statistically, white children born in America today will live to be 100, so what is the hurry? The irony is that the excessive cost of post-secondary education has escalated unabated for so long that there is a rush to shorten the ordeal (such as three-year bachelor degrees), an overabundance of online education, the results may not bear up over time.

So let's look at our cities and all of our communities and determine how we can improve them. By that we mean not just to throw more federal dollars at them. There is an immediate need for infrastructure investment. Let's stop talking about it and figure out how to do it in an affordable way.

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management and principal of Harrington & Reeves, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Facilities Management Administrator (FMA). He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.

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