My take on the latest market trends

Happy New Year Everybody,

I haven’t written in a while and now I am back. I always try to show an optimistic view of the real estate market. Last year was not a good year for real estate, in general. We however had a great year, focusing primarily on condos working for buyers and sellers. We also recently helped a buyer on the purchase of a large house in San Carlos.

The one bright spot, locally, was the high end of the market–$5m and above. In fact, there are even spec. builders in that market. It is good to be in the top 1%. This year things seem better. Unemployment is going down, the stock market survived intact after a lot of volatility, it is an election year–often a bullish sign. Rents are up 13% in SF and SJ, interest rates are at all time lows, and most houses in the Bay Area are priced below replacement costs–all bullish signs for rising home values.

There has never been a better time to buy. If you buy below comparable rents and below replacement costs the risks of buying are very low in many parts of the Bay Area. The fence sitters and permanent renters are still pessimistic. They worry about losing their job, having to move, earthquakes, loss of flexibility, home maintenance, loss of tax deductions and a million other ‘what ifs’?

For future buyers the old rules still apply. This is a good article to read: WSJ Online Buy when it works best for your own personal situation. Don’t buy something you can’t afford. Buy planning to stay for a minimum of 5 years. If you have to move, make sure the house will rent at a positive cash flow (or an affordable negative out flow), you’ll will feel safer if you do lose your job or have to relocate. Get a 30 year fixed loan for piece of mind. Buy a property that could have a potential in-law rental or guest cottage to rent out for extra income. Buy something new or remodeled if you are worried about maintenance.

I think the Real Estate bright spot in the coming year will be condos (including townhouses). There is shortage of SFH’s. In fact if they are in good shape and priced right, they get multiple offers. The cost difference between condos and SFH’s has reached an all time high. Low interest rates and high HOA fees have artificially driven down condo prices. Plus apartment rents are skyrocketing. In many cases condos are cheaper to buy than rent. Most first time buyers just can’t afford houses in the RBA (RealBayArea — the peninsula cities with schools that have API scores of over 900). Condos are the only choice for young families that want to be in the RBA. Condos are also going to attractive to the sellers that are downsizing and want to stay in the area. Remember the condo boom of the 1970’s?–many of the buyers were older. That trend will be echoed by the Baby Boomer generation. After all many can pay cash for a condo and not have to worry about rent increases.

There is talk, nationally, of selling many more REO’s in bulk to investors. This has been going on locally for 3 years. It will help us in the Bay Area by taking the low end properties off market and stabilizing the low end. There will be more rental housing available, but since there is so much rent demand, rents will still go up. In fact rents are so high that the big developers are now building rental units instead of condos. 4500 units will be built in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties(mostly in San Jose) in the next 3 years. They cost close to $400/sf and will rent for over $3/sf/month for these luxury apartments. The shortage of affordable housing will continue to drive up low end rents.

Five signs that say “buy”

Home buyers sitting on the fence wondering if now is the right time to buy should consider five factors when making this decision: Jobs, recent sales activity, construction, mortgage availability, and anecdotal evidence. Each of these issues can help consumers make the best choice for their situation and financial circumstance.

Jobs: Although many areas of the country were deeply impacted by the recession, some areas were less affected by job loss. If employment stability is a concern, prospective buyers should review job-growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics at The data provided by the Bureau is approximately one month old and shows the direction of the local economy.

Recent Sales Activity: Housing inventory and sales volume should be taken into consideration while house hunting. A large inventory of homes with few actual transactions can be a negative indicator. On the other hand, if inventory is falling and transactions are rising, that is a good sign. In January, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ Unsold Inventory Index stood at 6.7 months, up from 5 months in December 2010, but down from 5.7 months in January 2010. The index indicates the number of months needed to deplete the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate.

Construction: Staying up-to-date on the number of building permits issued for local builders is useful for gauging builder sentiment and the future of housing activity. The California Building Industry Association recently announced that California homebuilders pulled 2,920 total housing permits in January, registering a 5-percent decline compared with a year ago and a 56-percent decline compared with December. However, the Construction Industry Research Board is projecting 62,000 total permits will be pulled in 2011, an increase of 38 percent compared with 2010’s total of 44,893 permits.

Mortgage Availability: Home buyers hoping to be approved for a mortgage should monitor local lending patterns. Following the financial crisis, most national banks tightened lending standards; however, some local banks haven’t been impacted as much as large lenders and are more willing to lend, even for higher-priced homes.

Anecdotal Evidence: Although buyers can access home listings online, one of the best ways to monitor the local housing market is to work with a REALTOR® and gather intelligence using their expertise and guidance.

Read the full story

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Economic Update – February 28, 2011

Last Week in the News

Existing home sales rose 2.7% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million units from 5.28 million units in December. The inventory of unsold homes on the market declined 5.1% to 3.38 million, a 7.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 8.2-month supply in December.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted composite index of mortgage applications for the week ending February 18 rose 13.2%. Refinancing applications increased 17.8%. Purchase volume rose 5.1%.

The consumer confidence index rose to 70.4 in February from an upwardly revised 64.8 in January. It was the highest level since February 2008. The index was benchmarked at 100 in 1985, a year chosen because it was neither a peak nor a trough in consumer confidence.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing price index — on a non-seasonally adjusted basis — fell 1% in December after a 1% decrease in November. On a year-over-year basis, prices fell 2.4% compared with December 2009.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 22,000 to 391,000 for the week ending February 19. Continuing claims for the week ending February 12 fell by 145,000 to 3.79 million.

Orders for durable goods — items expected to last three or more years — rose 2.7% in January after a revised 0.4% decrease in December. Excluding volatile transportation-related goods, orders posted a monthly decrease of 3.6%.

New home sales fell 12.6% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 284,000 units from a revised rate of 325,000 units in December. Economists had expected a pace of 310,000 units.

Upcoming on the economic calendar are reports on construction spending on March 1 and factory orders on March 4.

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California pending home sales rise in January

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 23) – The CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) debuted its Pending Home Sales Index and released key distressed property data.

Pending home sales index:

Pending home sales in California increased in January, according to C.A.R.’s Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI)*.  The index was 93.6 in January, rising 13.6 percent from December’s index of 82.4, based on contracts signed in January.  Pending home sales are forward-looking indicators of future home sales activity, providing information on the future direction of the market.

“Pending sales typically rise in January from a seasonally slow November and December,” said C.A.R. President Beth L. Peerce.  “January’s pending sales should be reflected in higher existing sales activity in February and March and serve as a precursor to the spring home buying season.”

Distressed housing market data:

  • The total share of all distressed property types sold statewide in January was 54 percent, up from 50 percent in December, but down from 56 percent in January 2010.
  • Conventional sales made up the remaining share at 46 percent in January, down from 50 percent in December, but up from 44 percent in January 2010.
  • Of the distressed properties sold statewide, the total share of REO (real estate-owned) sales was 32 percent in January, up from 30 percent in December, but was down from 37 percent in January 2010.
  • The statewide share of short sales increased to 22 percent in January, up from 20 percent in December and up from 19 percent in January 2010.
  • The median price of homes sold in the state differed dramatically depending on the property type, with non-distressed properties selling for much higher prices than short sales and foreclosures.
  • The statewide median price of conventional properties sold in January was $367,150, 38 percent higher than the short sale median price of $265,500 recorded in January, and 85 percent higher than the January REO median price of $198,000.


Share of Distressed Sales to Total Sales

Type of Sale




REOs (real estate-owned) 37% 30% 32%
Short Sales 19% 20% 22%
Total Distressed Sales 56% 50% 54%

Distressed Sales by Select Counties (Percent of total sales)

CA 56 50 54
San Diego 34 28 33
Marin 37 34 43
Orange 41 38 43
San Luis Obispo 49 46 47
Los Angeles 54 50 54
Mendocino 49 57 55
Napa 68 54 59
Sonoma 54 55 61
Kern 69 71 70
Sacramento 68 66 73
Riverside 78 67 73
San Bernardino 76 72 74
Solano 76 74 81

*Note:  C.A.R.’s pending sales information is generated from a survey of more than 70 associations of REALTORS® and MLSs throughout the state.  Pending home sales are forward-looking indicators of future home sales activity, offering solid information on future changes in the direction of the market.  A sale is listed as pending after a seller has accepted a sales contract on a property.  The majority of pending home sales usually becomes closed sales transactions one to two months later.  The year 2008 was used as the benchmark for the pending homes sales index. An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2008.