Have you heard of Pacaso Second Homes?


Dirt Lawyers: take a look at this company’s website: www.pacaso.com

(Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

I try to keep abreast of trends in the real estate market, but I missed this interesting story entirely. Luckily, my husband, Frank, a voracious purveyor of the news, pointed this article from NPR out to me. The story, dated August 24, is entitled “A Startup is Turning Houses into Corporations, And the Neighbors Are Fighting Back”. You can read the story in its entirety here.

It seems a “unicorn” (a startup corporation with a billion-dollar valuation) called Pacaso, is buying homes, slightly refurbishing them, furnishing them, and creating limited liability companies to own them. The ownership of each house is then divvied into eight fractional shares, and each share is marketed on the company’s website. Each share entitles an owner to 44 nights per year. Each visit is limited to no more than 14 days.

The corporation offers an app to handle booking, maintenance, and cleaning. The cost is 12% of the value of the property up front and monthly maintenance fees. After ownership for a year, each fractional owner is entitled to sell its interest at a gain or loss. Gifts of stays at the houses can also be made to friends or family members. The company advertises that it only buys luxury and super-luxury homes and that it is not competing with middle-class families for housing.

The news story and the company’s website indicate the corporation was founded in 2020 by two former Zillow executives. One of the founders who lives in Napa bought a second home in Lake Tahoe and immediately became inspired with making the dream of second home ownership available for more people.

This type of ownership is not new to real estate practitioners who practice on South Carolina’s coast. For sale signs for beachfront houses touting “Interval Ownership” are common. In fact, intervals in these homes seem to be perpetually for sale. 

My speculation about the frequency of these sales has always been that owning a home with multiple individuals and entities you don’t know can’t be much fun. It’s hard enough for two spouses to agree on when undertake major maintenance items. Imagine trying to decide when to spend the money on exterior painting with a large group.

 The crux of NPR’s article is the opposition being mounted by neighbors of some of the houses. It’s not surprising that owners in nice single-family neighborhoods would oppose the parade of vacationers interval ownership might create. One group of neighbors in Napa printed signs reading “No Pacaso” for homes and cars, wrote opinion pieces for local newspapers and were otherwise extremely vocal in their opposition.

Valid legal arguments might be made in these neighborhoods if restrictive covenants or zoning ordinances exclude timeshares or Airbnb-types of ownership, but Pacaso insists its model involves neither form. All real estate law is, of course, local, so various arguments will be mounted in different locations.

In response to the opposition in the Napa neighborhood, the company agreed to sell the home in question in the traditional manner. It also agreed to beef up noise provisions in its documents, to create a local liaison dedicated to assisting neighbors, to refrain from buying homes in the area valued less than $2 million and to donate funds to a local nonprofit dedicated to affordable housing.

I didn’t see any South Carolina homes in a quick review of the company’s website, but I did see homes located in Florida. I can only imagine that South Carolina’s beautiful coastline will be discovered soon. Real estate practitioners will likely be involved in both sides of this controversy.

The Big Short: Required Reading (and watching) for Dirt Lawyers



Super Bowl 50 was the big entertainment news of the weekend, but coming in at a personal close second were the book and movie The Big Short. I rushed to finish the former before dragging my husband to a Saturday matinee of the latter. Then, a friend pointed me to an NPR special “The Giant Pool of Money”, which provided a fascinating diversion for my Saturday afternoon walk.  (I confess to being easily entertained by all matters involving real estate.)

I encourage everyone involved with “dirt” to read the book, watch the movie and listen to the podcast. All relate to the 2008 financial crisis. At the center of the book (and movie) were several eccentric investors/money managers, who predicted the fall and brilliantly crafted a method to cash in on it. At the center of the podcast was the “giant pool of money”, the trillions of dollars in the economy that constantly need a place to be invested.

Locally, we heard the stories about real estate investors who lost properties and funds in the crash. In our office, we compared the crash to a game of musical chairs. The investors who sat in the chairs when the music stopped (the ones who held titles to the properties) were the ones who lost.

All areas of South Carolina were affected, but our coastal areas were hardest hit. Property values were phenomenal!  A contract on a yet-to-be-constructed residence might change hands several times at increasing prices before the final purchase. And loans were easy to procure at all income levels. No one thought property values would ever soften, and it didn’t matter if adjustable rate loans would reset in two years at staggeringly high fixed interest rates because refinances were readily available. Properties and mortgages churned like butter. There was apparently no end in sight.

The book’s author, Michael Lewis, who also wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side (back to football, which really is the center of the universe), said in explaining the mindset of the people who would borrow again and again, “How do you make poor people feel wealthy when wages are stagnate? You give them cheap loans”.

One of the money managers in The Big Short had his eyes opened by a story from his own household. His babysitter revealed she and her sister owned five townhouses in Queens. When he questioned asked how that possibly could have happened, she responded that after they bought the first townhouse, the value increased, and lenders suggested they refinance and take out $250,000, which they used to buy another townhouse. And so on….

The “giant pool of money” that at one time had been invested safely in boring assets like Treasury bonds, needed a place to land with higher interest rates. With mortgage rates being at 3.5% and higher, no better place could be found.

How did the money managers cash in?  They looked at pools of mortgages that were being sold on the secondary market, saw that the interest rates would collectively begin to reset in early 2007, and bet against the housing market.

They created a “credit default swap” market that bet against collateralized debt obligations. Huh?

One of the points of the book is that the financial markets created fancy terms that average individuals could not possibly understand. In this particular case, it turned out that that the big Wall Street firms, the people who ran them as well as their regulators, did not understand what was happening either.

“Credit default swap” is a confusing term because it is not a swap at all. It is an insurance policy, typically on a corporate bond, with semiannual payments and a fixed term. The money managers who predicted the subprime lending crisis bought credit default swaps that paid off, like insurance policies, when the market crashed.  These eccentric money men were able to predict that there would be a crash of the subprime mortgage market even if housing prices only stalled because borrowers would not be able to refinance or make payments.  When prices dropped, the money men were able to cash in at astonishing levels.

The most horrifying point of the book was that the government’s response to the crisis, the so-called bailout, will not prevent the crisis from happening again. We can only hope that we are all better educated the next time around. As I opened Outlook this morning, though, the first article that caught my eye was from Housingwire entitled “Risky home lending really on the comeback?”  Let’s collectively hope not!