Architecture, views, probates, penthouses, lofts, TICs, luxury homes, mortgage rates, sales prices, market cycles, and everything else we could think of in a look back on 2015.
Despite anxiety about interest rates, financial markets, housing affordability, unending international crises, and possibly over-valued, high-tech unicorns, the Q4 2015 San Francisco median house sales price, at $1,250,000, is up about 11% from Q4 2014. That dovetails nicely with the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index for the Bay Area, which measures appreciation in a different way, but also calculated 11% annual appreciation (through October, its last report). The Q4 condo median sales price, at $1,125,000, is up 13% year over year, but that is influenced by the greater percentage of more recently built, and more expensive, units in the sales mix.
We’ve also updated our popular price maps of San Francisco neighborhoods and the greater Bay Area: Home Price Maps
San Francisco has seen 3 extended periods of home construction: The first ran from the Gold Rush to the 1906 earthquake, when 28,000 buildings were destroyed. The second went from the post-quake rebuilding, with the construction of thousands of Edwardian houses and multi-unit buildings, through the big WWII population surge. Many districts such as the Marina and Sunset/Parkside were built out in the period from 1920 to 1950, with Spanish Mediterranean (in many variations), Marina-style and Art Deco being common architectural styles.
The city’s population then went into major decline during the subsequent 3 decades and construction plunged. The third era of homebuilding is all about new condo construction, which began around 1980, ebbed and flowed dramatically with the economy, and is currently booming once again.
A look at a few of the distinctive niches of the market.
San Francisco is famously a city of gorgeous views. For the simple reason of verticality, more condos have views and, generally speaking, more panoramic and spectacular views, than houses. Many other lovely views add to SF home value as well: sweeping city views; park views; marina views; views of Alcatraz, Marin and Mt. Tamalpais; and of the East Bay and Mt. Diablo. A few lucky (typically, very affluent) condo owners have staggering vistas from the windows on all 4 sides of their high altitude units.
After being bludgeoned in 2015 by thousands of articles, predictions and warnings regarding interest rates, here is a look at how much they actually changed over the course of the year: approximately one seventh of one percent. Per recent signals from the Fed, presumably mortgage rates will rise in 2016, but expectations over the last 6 years have been confounded far too often to be sure. Significant increases would certainly worsen the affordability equation for homebuyers financing their purchases.
Seasonality: Waiting for Spring
The 2 charts above illustrate the extreme seasonality of the market, both in the numbers of new listings coming on market, and the percentage of listings that accept offers (a measurement of supply vs. demand). The second chart also shows that the market for homes under $2 million has been hotter than the luxury home market: There are fewer buyers at the ultra-high end, and luxury homes are also most prone to significant overpricing.
The spring selling season – which actually started in February last year – is typically the most feverish, and this is especially true for luxury homes: Notice, in the 2nd chart, the huge spike in demand for luxury homes last spring.
More statistical, supply and demand graphs: San Francisco Market Overview Analytics
Average Dollar per Square Foot Values
High-end home sales hit new peaks in spring 2015, but with the stock market volatility in late August and September, the market softened, inventory increased (to its highest level ever) and sales dropped about 17% in October on a year-over-year basis. (Affluent buyers and sellers are most influenced by financial market volatility.) However, the stock market then recovered and stabilized in October and buyer confidence improved, which is reflected in the year over year increase in sales that occurred in November and December. Remember that closed sales in one month generally reflect the heat of the market in the previous month, when the transaction was actually negotiated. Q4 2015 sales ultimately ended slightly up from Q4 2014.
Details, Amenities & Size
The above details are as described in MLS by listing agents, so the numbers are very approximate. Also note that what most people might see as a unit above a laundromat, an enthusiastic listing agent might see as a “rarely available luxury penthouse.”
One of the reasons the Pacific Heights district has by far the highest house prices in the city is that its average house size is so much larger. However, its mansions also command a very high dollar per square foot value, as seen in one of the earlier charts.
The sales of condo shall continue to make up a larger and larger share of overall home sales in San Francisco, as new condo construction continues apace.(Condos also turn over more often than houses.) Very few new houses are built in the city – they are usually big, high-tech, beautiful and costly.
Where the Most Home Sales Occur
San Francisco is very much a boutique market for multi-unit buildings: Our apartment buildings are generally much smaller, older and, for that matter, more gracious than those found in the suburbs. These properties are often at the heart of fierce controversies pertaining to rent control, tenants’ rights, tenant evictions, and condo conversion rules. There has been an immense increase in market-rate rents over recent years – SF is the most expensive rental market in the country– though rules restrict increases for existing tenants of buildings built before 1979 (i.e. almost all of our multi-unit properties).
The tenancy-in-common unit with an exclusive right to occupy, aka the TIC, is a property type rarely found outside of San Francisco. It was originally created as both a way to get sellers of multi-unit properties significantly more money – the individual unit sales adding up to more than the purchase of the entire building by one buyer – as well as providing a lower-cost alternative for homebuyers, since TICs typically cost 10% to 15% less than comparable condos. (The TIC phenomenon also generated significant legal fees for the lawyers who came up with the idea.) Because of changes in tenant-eviction law and condo-conversion rules, financing and other issues, the number of TIC sales has plunged since its peak in 2007. On the other hand, some TIC units are now selling for jaw-dropping prices: In 2015, 4 sold for over $5 million. The median TIC sales price last year was $947,000.
Map of San Francisco Neighborhoods
Median sales prices in October and November jumped back up to levels similar to the spring peak selling season. It’s important to remember that median prices are not a perfect reflection of changes in fair market value: They often fluctuate due to seasonal inventory and buyer-profile trends, as well as issues such as an influx of new-construction listings. It is the longer-term trend that is most meaningful – however we can say with confidence that there was clearly no significant “crash” in prices this past autumn.
One indication of the heat of the market is the extent to which sales prices are bid up over asking prices.As is not untypical, the market becomes less competitive in November as it heads into the winter holidays. Still, an average sales price 6% over asking price would be considered crazy-hot in any other market in the country (though one also has to adjust for the fact that serious underpricing has become a not uncommon listing strategy in the SF market).
This chart based on S&P Case Shiller Home Price Index data illustrates the seasonality of home price appreciation in the past 4 years: surging in our feverish spring selling seasons, and then generally plateauing through the rest of the year. Note that Case-Shiller looks at home prices in a totally different way than median sales price trends, and probably reflects changes in fair market value more accurately. Case-Shiller Index numbers refer back to a January 2000 value of 100, thus the current Index reading for higher-priced Bay Area homes of 217 signifies home prices 117% above January 2000.
As we enter the winter holiday market slowdown, the next real indication of the direction of the market will come in the first quarter of 2016. Will spring 2016 repeat the overheated, high demand/ low supply frenzies of previous springs or has the market finally reached a longer term plateau or an inflection point? We shall soon know more.
Our full report is here: S&P Case-Shiller Index for SF Metro Area
n 2015 YTD, the dominant price segment for home sales in San Francisco was $1,000,000 to $1,499,000. As seen in the first chart above, the median sales prices for both condos and houses fall within this range. Note the change from just two years ago.
San Francisco Luxury Home Market
The high-end home market is the most seasonal segment in the city (as well as the most sensitive to sudden, large, negative movements in the financial markets). Market activity starts to plunge in November, hits its nadir in December, begins to pick up in the first quarter and then usually hits its peak in spring. Much of the center of gravity in the luxury market has been shifting in recent years from the city’s prestige northern neighborhoods to other districts of the city, such as the greater Noe Valley area and the South Beach/Yerba Buena district. This is not to say that the northern districts are not still both very expensive and considered highly desirable, and the greater Pacific Heights area still dominates the market for the most expensive houses in the city, i.e. those selling for $5m and more.
After the semi-hysteria – already half forgotten – that erupted in late August and September regarding the Chinese stock market and its impact on the U.S. stock market and economy, and possibly the Bay Area housing market, we thought it interesting to take a look back at how it has played out so far.
It is widely expected that the Fed will raise interest rates in December, probably by some minimal increment, but for the time being, as of the first week of December, rates have remained below 4%.
In November, we issued two mini-reports, one on Bay Area housing affordability and another on San Francisco new housing construction. Below are the featured charts and links to the full articles.
Information regarding San Francisco neighborhood prices and trends can be found here: San Francisco Neighborhood Values
The SF Planning Department just released updated Q3 information regarding the new-housing development pipeline. San Francisco is in the midst of one of its biggest new-housing construction booms in history. (The same is occurring on the commercial development side, but this report won’t deal with that.) Indeed, it often seems that new projects of one kind or another are being announced on an almost daily basis, and a detailed map delineating all projects in some stage of the pipeline makes many city districts appear to have measles.
New housing construction has lagged population pressures for decades – pressures which have soared during the current economic and employment boom – and now there is a scramble to address the inadequacy of housing supply, and, for developers/investors, to reap the rewards of a high demand/low supply dynamic in one of the most affluent and expensive housing markets in the world.
As of September 30th, there were approximately 59,000 housing units of all kinds – luxury condos, rental apartments, market rate and affordable units, and social project housing – in the relatively near-term pipeline (next 5 to 6 years). Most are in the Market Street corridor area, the Van Ness corridor just above Market Street, and in the districts to the southeast of Market Street (see map). If we add the mega-projects planned for Candlestick-Hunter’s Point, Treasure Island and Park Merced, which may take decades to become a reality, the number jumps to over 80,000. As a point of context, there are approximately 382,000 residential units in San Francisco currently. About 3500 new units were added in 2014.
Housing supply and affordability issues, strong feelings about neighborhood gentrification and tenants’ rights, and even simple NIMBYism (or in SF, NBMVism, “not blocking my view!”) make development the most contentious political topic in San Francisco. Furious battles are ongoing in the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor’s office and the Planning Department; with neighborhood associations and special interest groups; and at the ballot box. Development is not for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket: One cannot contemplate building virtually anything in the city without vehement opposition and sometimes a well-funded coalition in opposition. For developers, the equation to be penciled out includes high costs, enormous hassle-factor and extended project timelines on one side, and the potential for large financial returns on the other. In new San Francisco developments, condos often sell for $1250 per square foot and above, and 500 square foot studio apartments can rent for up to $3500 per month.
Of the units in the greater pipeline of 80,000 units, over 9000 units are designated as “affordable housing” – but about 5000 of those are in the long-term Candlestick-Hunter’s Point and Treasure Island projects. Because of the nature of the political environment, much to do with how much affordable housing will be built is in flux. Many developers are in intense negotiations with government agencies and neighborhood associations to find a workable compromise between return on investment on one hand, and unit mix and affordable housing requirements on the other. Said requirements may consist of a percentage of units in the project, building affordable units elsewhere in the city, or contributing substantial amounts to the city’s affordable housing fund in lieu of building.
New housing construction is very sensitive to major economic, political and even environmental events (i.e. natural disasters), so simply because something is in the pipeline doesn’t mean it will be completed as planned within the timeframe contemplated. First of all, plans are constantly being changed just in the normal course of things. And if a big financial or real estate market correction (or crash) occurs, as happened in late 2008, projects in process can come to a grinding halt, and new projects substantially altered, delayed or abandoned. Because the timeline in San Francisco can run 3 to 6+ years from initial filing with Planning to construction completion, developers and their lenders make enormous financial bets on what the future will look like. Timing is everything in real estate development, and can make the difference between large profits and bankruptcy. When the music stops – which it always does sooner or later, though the time range of opportunity can vary greatly – not everyone will find a chair to sit down in. That especially applies to those who over-leveraged their projects.
As a side note, big Chinese developers have been investing in both large residential and commercial real estate development projects in the Bay Area, and, according to reports, continue to aggressively seek additional opportunities. Though significant – constituting billions of dollars in investment – these projects do not constitute the greater part of Bay Area development. read more →
A look at San Francisco Bay Area housing affordability trends over time and how they intersect with real estate market corrections:
The 2008 San Francisco Bay Area real estate crash was not caused just by a local affordability crisis: It was triggered by macro-economic events in financial markets which affected real estate markets across the country. It’s important to note that in the past, major corrections to Bay Area home prices did not occur in isolation, but parallel to national economic events. Ongoing speculation onlocal “bubbles” often neglect to remember this.
Still, dwindling affordability is certainly a symptom of overheating, of a market being pushed perhaps too high. Looking at the chart above, it’s interesting to note that the markets of all Bay Area counties hit similar and historic lows at previous market peaks in 2006-2007, i.e. the pressure that began in the San Francisco market spread out to pressurize surrounding markets until all the areas bottomed out in affordability. This suggests that one factor or symptom of a correction, is not just a feverish San Francisco market, but that buyers can’t find affordable options anywhere in the area. We are certainly seeing that radiating pressure on home prices occurring now, starting in San Francisco and San Mateo (Silicon Valley) and surging out to all points of the compass.
San Francisco, with a Housing Affordability Index (HAI) reading of 10% is about 2% above its all-time historic low in Q3 2007, but affordability in most other Bay Area counties, while generally declining, still remain significantly above their previous lows. By this measure, the situation we saw in 2007-2008 has not yet been replicated.
Significant increases in mortgage interest rates would affect affordability quickly and dramatically, as interest rates along with, of course, housing prices and household incomes, play the dominant roles in this calculation.
Note that Affordability ratios are just one relatively blunt measuring tool, and there are certainly other factors at play affecting our real estate market: local (high-tech boom; surging population, employment and wealth; inadequate housing supply, rental rates, etc.), national (financial markets, unemployment rates, consumer confidence, etc.) and, nowadays, even international economic factors (such as recent events in the Chinese stock markets and the EU).
Information on the methodology behind the California Association of Realtors’ HAI can be found here: www.car.org/marketdata/data/haimethodology/
Speaking of financial markets, we decided to take a look at how the recent volatility played out in the S&P 500 and the Shanghai stock indices. These indices are constantly fluctuating, but the general picture has not altered significantly since we graphed this in early November:
San Francisco led the Bay Area and the nation when its real estate recovery began in early 2012. Within the city itself, the more affluent neighborhoods led the rebound from the 2008 – 2011 recession and saw the highest rates of home price appreciation. That dynamic began to shift in 2014, when the more affordable neighborhoods began to take the lead in demand and in appreciation. All price segments in San Francisco have cooled off from the overheated frenzy of the spring 2015 selling season – this cooling is a common seasonal phenomenon – but while lower and mid-priced homes in the city have continued to remain solidly in “seller’s market” territory, in the luxury home segment, the dynamic between buyers and sellers has fundamentally shifted, at least for the time being.
A number of reasons may explain this: Firstly, the affluent are much more invested in the stock market than other groups, and the volatility of late August, early September may have encouraged more wealthy homeowners to sell (before things might possibly get worse), and more wealthy homebuyers to postpone buying until things clarified.As of very early November, the S&P 500 has regained its lost ground from August, so this effect may fade. Secondly, it’s certainly possible that sellers and listing agents have finally pushed the envelope on prices a little too far: San Francisco’s high prices have clearly motivated some buyers to look at options outside the city (which has helped pressurize the markets of other counties). Last but not least, more and more luxury condos are being built in San Francisco: Growing supply not only gives buyers more options and more negotiating room, but it decreases the urgency to write strong offers quickly and the motivation to compete with other buyers.
However, the luxury home market hasn’t “crashed”: there are still high-end homes selling very quickly for very high prices amid competitive bidding.But it has markedly cooled and the number of luxury home listings in San Francisco hit a new high in October, so correct pricing has becomes increasingly vital. It remains to see if this change is just a transitory market blip – such blips are not uncommon in financial or real estate markets – or the beginning of a longer term reality.
Median Sales Price by Month
Even with the general cooling in the market since spring and the significant slowdown in higher end home sales, the overall median sales price for houses and condos bounced back up to $1,200,000 in October. Median prices are impacted by seasonal trends: typically peaking in the spring, dropping in the summer, up again in the autumn and then plunging during the winter holidays. This has more to do with inventory than with changes in fair market value. Short-term fluctuations are not particularly meaningful: It is the longer-term trend that gives a sense of what’s going on in the market.
For houses alone, the median sales price in October was $1,300,000 and for condos, it was $1,100,000.
Supply & Demand Statistics
by Price Segment, October 2015
Months Supply of Inventory (MSI) is a classic measurement of supply and demand, calculating the time it would take to sell the existing inventory of homes for sale at the current rate of market activity. The lower the MSI, the greater the demand as compared to the supply, i.e. the hotter the market. The house market in San Francisco has been stronger than the condo market since the recovery began – though the condo market has been crazy hot as well – because the supply of houses is more limited and is dwindling as a percentage of sales because virtually no new houses are being added to inventory. However, new condos are being built in quantity. This chart above illustrates the dramatic difference in the markets for homes up to the median price ($1.3 million for houses, $1.1 million for condos) and in the next price segment higher, versus the luxury home segment, defined here as houses selling for $2,000,000+ and condos for $1,500,000+. (By this definition, luxury sales currently make up about 20% of San Francisco’s home sales.)
Because SF has been so hot for so long, we’ve adjusted the thresholds for what MSI readings define “seller’s market” and “buyer’s market” to better reflect the psychology of the current market.
Luxury Home Listings for Sale
As mentioned earlier, the number of high-end house and condo listings hit all-time highs in October, while sales numbers are well below levels hit in the previous 2 years. Even more so than the general market, the luxury segment is dramatically affected by seasonality and typically goes into deep hibernation from Thanksgiving to mid-January. Having so many active listings on the market just prior to the winter holiday doldrums is one of the reasons why we designate the luxury-home segment as currently having moved into “buyer’s market” territory.
The Luxury Home Market: Months Supply of Inventory
Year over Year over Year Comparisons
This chart above illustrates the change in the luxury home market supply and demand balance over the past three Octobers. As a further point of context to what has happened in the past year, during the feverish market of this past spring, the MSI for luxury houses hit a low of 1.6 months of inventory and the MSI for luxury condos hit a low of 1.7 months. Since 2012, spring has consistently been the hottest, most competitive, selling season of the year and most home price appreciation has occurred during that time.
4 Neighborhood Snapshots
Much more information regarding SF neighborhood prices and trends can be found here: San Francisco Neighborhood Values
Average Asking Rents in San Francisco
The real estate market has been challenging for homebuyers these past few years, but for anyone looking to rent a home in the city, it has been distinctly more difficult financially. Homebuyers have the benefit of historically low interest rates, multiple tax advantages and, hopefully, substantial appreciation gains over time; renters enjoy none of those advantages (though admittedly there can be long-term benefits to rent control for renters that qualify). Even with the big jump in home prices over the past 4 years, factoring in the 35% – 40% decline in interest rates and adjusting for inflation, the ongoing monthly cost of homeownership (for someone putting 20% down) is roughly the same as it was in 2007. But average monthly asking rents in the city have surged over 50% during the same period.
This has made rental property ownership an increasingly lucrative proposition, which we discuss in more detail in our last Commercial Brokerage report: Bay Area Apartment Building Market
Median Household Incomes
In Selected San Francisco Zip Codes
By Bay Area County
The S&P Case-Shiller Index for the San Francisco Metro Area covers the house markets of 5 Bay Area counties, divided into 3 price tiers, each constituting one third of unit sales. Most of San Francisco’s, Marin’s and Central Contra Costa’s house sales are in the “high price tier”, so that is where we focus most of our attention.” The Index is published 2 months after the month in question and reflects a 3-month rolling average, so it will always reflect the market of some months ago. The Index for July 2015 was released on the last Tuesday of September. In 2014, after a torrid spring selling season, the market plateaued during the summer and autumn, and a similar trend seems to be developing in 2015 as well, after its own white hot spring.
The 5 counties in our Case-Shiller Metro Statistical Area are San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa. Needless to say, there are many different real estate markets found in such a broad region, and it’s fair to say that the city of San Francisco’s market has generally out-performed the general metro-area market.
The first two charts illustrate the price recovery of the Bay Area high-price-tier home market over the past year and since 2012 began, when the market recovery really started in earnest. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015, home prices have dramatically surged in the spring (often then plateauing or even ticking down a little in the following seasons). The surges in prices that have occurred in the spring selling seasons reflect frenzied markets of huge buyer demand, historically low interest rates and extremely low inventory. In San Francisco itself, it was further exacerbated by a rapidly expanding population and the high-tech-fueled explosion of new, highly-paid employment and new wealth creation.
For more regarding how seasonality affects real estate: Seasonality & the Real Estate Market
Case-Shiller Index numbers all reflect home prices as compared to the home price of January 2000, which has been designated with a value of 100. Thus, a reading of 218 signifies home prices 118% above the price of January 2000.
Short-Term Trends: 12 Months & Since Market Recovery Began in 2012
Longer-Term Trends & Cycles
The third and fourths charts below reflect what has occurred in the longer term (for the high-price tier that applies best to San Francisco and Marin counties), showing the cycle of recession, recovery, bubble, decline/recession since 1996, and since 1988. Note that, past cycle changes will always look smaller than more recent cycles because the prices are so much higher now; if the chart reflected only percentage changes between points, the difference in the scale of cycles would not look so dramatic.
Different Bubbles, Crashes & Recoveries
This next 3 charts compare the 3 different price tiers since 1988. The low-price-tier’s bubble was much more inflated, fantastically inflated, by the subprime lending fiasco – an absurd 170% appreciation over 6 years – which led to a much greater crash (foreclosure/distressed property crisis) than the other two price tiers. All 3 tiers have been undergoing dramatic recoveries, but because the bubbles of the low and middle tiers were greater, their recoveries leave them below – a little bit for the mid-price-tier and well below for the low-price-tier – their artificially inflated peak values of 2006. It may be a long time before the low-price-tier of houses regains its previous peak values. The high-price-tier, with a much smaller bubble, and little affected by distressed property sales, has now significantly exceeded its previous peak values of 2007. Most neighborhoods in the city of San Francisco itself have now surpassed previous peak values by very substantial margins.
It’s interesting to note that despite the different scales of their bubbles, crashes and recoveries, all three price tiers now basically show the same overall appreciation rate when compared to year 2000. As of July 2015, Case-Shiller puts all 3 price tiers at 118% – 119% over year 2000 prices. This suggests an equilibrium is being achieved across the general real estate market.
Different counties, cities and neighborhoods in the Bay Area are dominated by different price tiers though, generally speaking, you will find all 3 tiers represented in different degrees in each county. Bay Area counties such as Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Sonoma and Solano have large percentages of their markets dominated by low-price tier homes (though, again, all tiers are represented to greater or lesser degrees). San Francisco, Marin, Central Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are generally mid and high-price tier markets, and sometimes very high priced indeed. Generally speaking, the higher the price, the smaller the bubble and crash, and the greater the recovery as compared to previous peak values.
Remember that if a price drops by 50%, then it must go up by 100% to make up the loss: loss percentages and gain percentages are not created equal.
The numbers in the charts refer to January Case-Shiller Index readings, except for the last as labeled..
Low-Price Tier Homes: Under $579,500 as of 7/15
Huge subprime bubble (170% appreciation, 2000 – 2006) & huge crash (60% decline, 2008 – 2011). Strong recovery but still well below 2006-07 peak values.
Mid-Price Tier Homes: $579,500 to $949,000 as of 7/15
Smaller bubble (119% appreciation, 2000 – 2006) and crash (42% decline) than low-price tier. As of July 2015, a strong recovery has put it back up to its previous 2006 peak.
High-Price Tier Homes: Over $949,000 as of 7/15
84% appreciation, 2000 – 2007, and 25% decline, peak to bottom.
Now climbing well above previous 2007 peak values.
In San Francisco, where many neighborhoods vastly exceed the initial price threshold for the high-price tier, declines from peak values in 2007 in those more expensive neighborhoods typically ran 15% – 20%, and appreciation over previous peak value has also exceeded the high-price tier norm.
San Francisco, Marin and Central Contra Costa
And then looking just at the city of San Francisco itself, which has, generally speaking, among the highest home prices in the 5-county metro area (and the country): many of its neighborhoods are now blowing past previous peak values. Note that this chart has more recent price appreciation data than available in the Case-Shiller Indices. This chart shows both house and condo values, while the C-S charts used above are for house sales only. Median prices are affected by other factors besides changes in values, including seasonality, new construction projects hitting the market, inventory available to purchase, and significant changes in the distressed and luxury home segments.
Central Contra Costa County
And this chart for the Noe and Eureka Valleys neighborhoods of San Francisco shows the explosive recovery seen in many of the city’s neighborhoods, pushing home values far above those of 2007. Noe and Eureka Valleys have become particularly prized by the high-tech buyer segment and the effect on prices has been astonishing.
All data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and is subject to revision. Statistics are generalities and how they apply to any specific property is unknown. Short-term fluctuations are less meaningful than longer term trends. All numbers should be considered approximate.
© 2015 Paragon Real Estate Group
The autumn selling season started with a large surge of new listings right after Labor Day, but it will be another month or so before preliminary statistical data is available on home sales negotiated since then. However, it is clear that the recent volatility in national and international financial markets has not so far caused a severe adjustment to local home prices. While we wait for early autumn sales to close in quantity, we’ll review the market from a variety of angles.
Short-Term & Long-Term
San Francisco Home Price Appreciation
It’s not unusual for median prices to drop in the 3rd quarter, which happened this year as well. This has less to do with fair market value, than with the fact that the market for higher priced homes slows down much more than that of the general market in summer.
Return on Cash Investment
Comparing Buying a Home in San Francisco
to Inflation, Gold, the S&P 500 & Apple Stock
For the purposes of this analysis, we’ve broken home ownership into 2 aspects, the first being ongoing housingcosts – mortgage interest, home insurance, property taxes, maintenance – which after tax deductions could be compared to the cost of renting a similar home. The second aspect, illustrated in the chart above, is the cash investment side of buying a home and the compound annual return on that investment, after closing costs and loan principal repayment are deducted, if one had purchased a median SF house in 1994.
For the San Francisco Median House calculation, we used the 1994 median price ($265,000), with a 20% downpayment ($53,000) and paying 1.5% in buy-side closing costs ($3975) for a total cash investment of $56,975. Net proceeds were calculated using the 2015 YTD median sales price ($1,250,000), deducting 6% in sell-side closing costs ($75,000) and the original 80% mortgage balance ($212,000), which equals $963,000. This equals an annual compound return on investment of 14.4% over the 21-year period.
All of us should have put every penny we had into Apple stock in 1994, but barring that, purchasing a home in San Francisco would have been a decent alternative – particularly if you’d bought in Noe Valley or the Mission. Three factors not included in the above analysis further increase the financial benefits of home purchase over the other investments graphed: 1) the $250,000/$500,000 capital gains tax exclusion on the sale of a primary residence (potentially saving up to $75,000 in taxes), 2) the “forced savings” effect of gradually paying off one’s mortgage (if one resists refinancing out growing home equity), which has a substantial wealth-building effect, and 3) over time, the ongoing cost of housing with a fixed rate loan, strategically refinanced when rates go significantly lower, will usually fall well below rental costs that continue to rise with inflation.
With financial assets subject to market cycles, changing the buy or sell dates in this analysis can dramatically affect the return. We picked 1994, because of the availability of MLS median price data going back to then.
Median Sales Prices by Neighborhood
2-Bedroom Condos in San Francisco
3-Bedroom Houses in San Francisco
Sales Price to List Price Percentages
& Average Days on Market
These two charts above illustrate both how competitive the market has been – the average SF home selling without a price reduction sold very quickly for 13.5% over asking price in the 3rd quarter – and the significant difference between homes that get an immediate market response and thosethat have to go through one or more price reductions before selling.
Months Supply of Inventory
Seasonality, Luxury and Non-Luxury Homes
The lower the Months Supply of Inventory, the stronger the buyer demand as compared to the supply of homes available to purchase. This chart illustrates the seasonality of the real estate market – typically strongest in spring (especially) and autumn, and slowing down during the summer and especially the winter holidays. It also shows that the lower-priced home segment is generally hotter than the higher priced – as shown by the lower MSI readings – and finally, how much more the luxury home segment is affected by seasonality. The dramatic slowdown in the highest-priced segment during summer and winter is one of the big reasons why median home prices usually drop during those seasons.
Condo Average-Dollar-per-Square-Foot Values
by Era of Construction
This doesn’t include brand new luxury condo developments – some of which are selling at very high prices – nor many very expensive and very prestigious condo and co-op buildings which simply have too few sales for meaningful statistical analysis.
These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but they may contain errors and are subject to revision. Statistics are generalities and all numbers should be considered approximate. How any median or average statistic applies to a particular home is unknown without a specific comparative market analysis. We are not qualified to render legal or tax advice of any kind. Sales statistics of one month generally reflect offers negotiated 4 – 6 weeks earlier.
Real estate markets are essentially determined by the balance – or imbalance, as is often the case – between buyer demand and seller supply of homes to purchase. Underlying that dynamic are economic, political and demographic factors – some local, some not – such as population growth, employment, new home construction, high-tech booms, consumer confidence, interest rates, affordability, IPOs, stock market movements, shenanigans in Congress, and SF ballot proposals, to name a few. Even environmental factors, such as droughts and earthquakes, can jump in and affect the market. These factors are all jostling for effect, ebbing and flowing, sometimes appearing out of nowhere to shake things up, or suddenly shrinking and quickly forgotten.
We are neither blithe optimists, for whom boom times will never end, nor inveterate pessimists, who see bubbles and crashes behind every shrub. For what it’s worth, based on our survey of current economic fundamentals, we don’t expect an imminent crash in the U.S. stock market or in Bay Area real estate values. (This short New Yorker article is excellent on recent market volatility: Drop in the Bucket) However, economies and markets naturally experience fluctuations – short-term ups and downs, times of slowing and flattening – and it’s certainly possible that the balance between buyers and sellers might shift, that the frenzy in our market may subside, and that home prices may plateau or even tick down to some degree. On the other hand, due to the scale of our high-tech boom (another area of exuberantly conflicting predictions) and our deeply inadequate supply of housing, demand may continue to exceed supply, and the pressures of recent years may continue until new-home construction makes a more significant contribution to inventory.
New Listings Coming on Market
September is usually the single month with the greatest number of new listings, and those that hit the market in the 4 to 5 weeks after Labor Day feed the vast majority of autumn sales activity until the market goes into hibernation mode in mid-late November. Preliminary indications are that this may be a very big new-listing month, even for a September. If this is true, and especially if it marks the beginning of a trend of more listings coming on market, that could cool the ferociously competitive, low-inventory, “seller’s market” of recent years. If buyers are more hesitant due to recent financial-market volatility, that would also cool the market. But, in our opinion, neither factor is likely to flip us into a crashing or recessionary market.
Percentage of Listings Accepting Offers
This chart illustrates the surge in buyer demand from the end of the last recession through the 2012 – 2015 recovery. Having the percentage of listings accepting offers over 50% and sometimes well over 60% in a given quarter – extremely high percentages historically – has applied consistent upward pressure on home prices. Demand usually peaks during the spring and autumn selling seasons, i.e. in the 2nd and 4th quarters.
Additional market indicator analyses can be found here: SF Market Overview Analytics
S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index
An updated Case-Shiller Index chart for the 5-county San Francisco Metro Area, outlining the real estate market cycles going back to the 1980’s. (The June Index was released on August 25th.) It is noteworthy that over the past several decades, we’ve never seen a crash or significant “correction” in our real estate market that was not in conjunction with a major, sustained, national economic event. This chart also suggests that SF buyers who purchase homes 1) they can afford in the first place, 2) using fixed-rate mortgages, and 3) for longer-term ownership, usually come out all right, and often fabulously well, despite periodic market declines.
“Renting can make sense as a lifestyle choice or because of income constraints. As a means to building wealth, however, there is no practical substitute for homeownership.”
Homeownership & Wealth Creation, 11/30/14, NYT op-ed article
The Case-Shiller chart above reflects sales in the upper third of Bay Area home sales (i.e. “high-price-tier”) – which applies best to SF homes. Even in the high tier, the city has generally outperformed the Bay Area in home price appreciation. The numbers on the graph refer to a January 2000 price of 100; thus, the number 217 signifies a price 117% above then. It is interesting to note, that as of the June Index report, all three Bay Area home-price tiers – low, mid and high – have readings of 117% appreciation since 2000, which may be a sign of an equilibrium being reached in the market. Our full report: Case-Shiller for SF Bay Area
Bay Area Housing Affordability
The California Association of Realtors recently released its Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for the 2nd quarter of 2015. All Bay Area counties saw declines in their affordability index reading – which measures the percentage of households that can afford to buy the median priced single family dwelling (house) – and San Francisco is now only 2 percentage points above its all-time low of 8%, last reached in Q3 2007.
Very low affordability at a time of very low interest rates is certainly a concern, but housing affordability is a complex subject and there are other factors at play in San Francisco. Our full report, which also charts median home prices, rents, interest rates, inflation-adjusted housing costs and household income by county is here: Bay Area Housing Affordability
Where to Buy at What Price Point
We’ve recently updated our report on where one is most likely to find a house or condo in one’s price range. The chart above is 1 of 7 delineating San Francisco neighborhoods with homes from under $1 million to over $5 million: San Francisco Neighborhood Affordability
Median Home Prices and Economic Indicators
A glance at recent movements in San Francisco’s median home sales price, as well as at a few longer-term local and national economic indicators.
Monthly fluctuations – often seasonally related – have been common since
2012, but home prices have consistently climbed higher over the longer term.
National and San Francisco unemployment trends: Very positive.
Over 100,000 new SF jobs – many of them very well paid – have been created since 2009. (The housing supply has increased by less than 15,000 units.)
Household debt to GDP and mortgage debt service ratios – huge issues
in the 2007-2008 crash – have significantly declined since then.
Sustained movements in the S&P 500 Index largely correlate to SF home-
price trends. Short-term financial-market fluctuations typically have no effect.
Price to Earnings (PE) Ratios of the S&P 500 Index climbed a bit high
in mid-2015, but not egregiously so compared to historical averages.
Our goal is not to convince you of a certain position, but to provide you with what we believe to be reliable data, so that you can make your own informed decisions.
These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but they may contain errors and are subject to revision. Statistics are generalities and all numbers should be considered approximate. Sales statistics of one month generally reflect offers negotiated 4 – 6 weeks earlier.
The California Association of Realtors just released its Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for the 2nd quarter of 2015. All Bay Area counties saw declines in their affordability index reading – which measures the percentage of households that can afford to buy the median priced single family dwelling (house) – and San Francisco is now only 2 percentage points above its all-time low of 8%, last reached in Q3 2007.
In this analysis, affordability is affected by 3 major factors: median house price, mortgage interest rates and household income. (Housing Affordability Index Methodology).
Affordability Percentage by Bay Area County, Q2 2015
Minimum Qualifying Income to Buy Median Priced House
Assumes 20% downpayment and including principal, interest, property tax and insurance costs.
Bay Area Median House Prices, Q2 2015
Affordability Trends: San Francisco, San Mateo & Marin
These 3 counties illustrate the general ups and down in Bay Area housing affordability since 1991.
San Francisco County: Median Price vs. Affordability
Illustrating the surge in SF home prices and decline in affordability since the current market recovery began in 2012.
- By definition, half the homes sold in any given county were at prices below the median sales price, i.e. there were numerous homes that were more affordable than the median price, with lower associated housing costs and income requirements.
- The CAR Housing Affordability Index uses median house prices for its calculations. In all Bay Area counties, median condoprices run below and often far below median house prices, which also adds to overall affordability. In San Francisco itself, more than half of all home sales are condos, stock co-op apartments and Tenancy-in-Common units (TICs), and if units of less than 2-bedrooms are included, they are significantly less expensive than houses. (SF condos of 2-bedrooms or more actually come within 4% to 5% of overall median house prices.)
- Besides increases in employment and population, much of the demand for Bay Area housing is being driven by increases in household wealth, which is different from household income. Wealth includes gains from a surging stock market and such things as stock options and IPO proceeds at high-tech companies, which have generated huge amounts of new wealth over the past 3 years.
- Pertaining to San Francisco: Most of its households are made up of renters, most of whom are under rent control. Furthermore, a very large percentage – 39% – of SF households is made up of single persons. Both these issues skew the household income equation: According to census figures, SF has a lower median household income than Santa Clara, Marin, San Mateo and Contra Costa (but higher home prices).
Monthly Housing Costs: Purchase vs. Rental
Two issues to keep in mind when comparing monthly ownership costs with monthly rental costs, both of which are very high in the Bay Area: Firstly, the average house is much larger than the average apartment, so this is not an apples to apples comparison. Secondly, the housing costs for ownership should ideally be adjusted for loan principal repayment, which builds equity, as well as for the tax deductibility of mortgage interest and property tax payments (depending on one’s specific financial circumstances). Those are two reasons why buying often makes financial sense when compared to renting. Long-term home-price appreciation may be another.
San Francisco: Trends in Prices and Rents
The same economic and demographic forces have been putting pressure on both home prices and apartment rents.
SF Median Home Prices since 2012, by Quarter
SF Average Asking Rents since 1994, by Year
Mortgage Interest Rates since 1981
Interest rates play an enormous role in affordability, and it is certainly reasonable to be concerned that affordability percentages are now hitting such depths while interest rates are also close to historic lows. For example, in 2007, when affordability percentages hit previous low points, prevailing mortgage interest rates were approximately 50% higher than today’s. When interest rates start to rise – when and how much being the real questions – there will be potentially dramatic effects on affordability, which could presumably affect demand and prices.
Monthly Housing Cost Adjusted for Inflation and Interest Rates
This chart illustrates a very approximate calculation of monthly housing cost (principal, interest, property tax and insurance)adjusted for inflation – i.e. in constant 1993 dollars – over the past 22 years, using annual median house sales prices, average annual 30-year interest rates, and assuming a 20% downpayment. The compounding CPI-Urban inflation rate fluctuated over the period, but averaged about 2.4% annually. Average annual 30-year mortgage rates fluctuated from 8.4% to 3.7%, hitting a historic short-term low of 3.4% in 2013; it is currently running around 4%.
Adjusting for inflation and interest rate changes means that though the median sales price is now far above that of 2007, the monthly housing cost is still a little bit below then – which generally correlates with the HAI percentages. This isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison because it doesn’t take into account that the amount of the 20% downpayment increased significantly over the time period.
Other reports you might find interesting:
Combined House & Condo Median Sales Prices
Besides the general economic recovery, there are other factors in different counties affecting home price increases over the past 4 years: 1) the huge decline in distressed property sales in those counties severely affected during the downturn (such as Solano, Contra Costa & Alameda), 2) the dramatic surge in luxury home sales (such as in SF, San Mateo & Marin), 3) increasing luxury condo construction (SF), and 4) the effect of the high-tech boom in employment and wealth, which radiates out from San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
The higher priced counties, led by San Francisco and San Mateo, saw the largest dollar increases in median prices since 2011 – $400,000 to $500,000 – but counties rebounding from the distressed property crisis often experienced the biggest percentage jumps. The city of Oakland, benefiting from both the decline in distressed sales and being the closest, most affordable option to high San Francisco housing prices saw by far the largest percentage increase: 133%.
We’re almost positive that we recommended that everyone buy at least one median-priced Pacific Heights mansion in 2011 at the bargain-basement price of $3,225,000. If you had followed this (imaginary) advice, your home would have appreciated by $2.77 million. However, on a pure return on investment basis, you would have done better to snap up a few median-priced houses in the Mission, which appreciated by an incredible 143%. It should be noted that both of these neighborhoods have comparatively few house sales as compared to, say, the Sunset or Bernal Heights. Low supply is often one factor in high appreciation rates.
For condos, Russian Hill led the way in dollar median price appreciation and Yerba Buena was tops in percentage price increase since the bottom of the market in 2011.
Over the past 4 years, houses have appreciated a bit more than condos in the city, 81% to 73%, and that is probably due to the fact that houses are becoming the scarcer commodity: While thousands of new condos are now being built each year, new house construction can usually be counted on 2 or 3 hands.
For prevailing SF median house and condo prices, our interactive map of neighborhood values can be found here:SF Neighborhood Home-Price Map
Increasing average dollar per square foot values have been breaking records in neighborhoods throughout San Francisco for the last 2 years. Some of the surge in condo values is explained by the many recently built luxury condo projects – which have been selling at premium dollar per square foot prices – that have been sprouting up around the city.
Sales of higher-end houses and condos have been soaring in the city and hit by far their highest number ever in the second quarter. Big jumps in expensive home sales are an important factor behind increases in the overall median sales price.
The short-term and long-term appreciation charts above are self-explanatory. The Home Cost Trends chart reflects a very approximate calculation of monthly home payment costs (principal, interest, property tax and insurance) adjusted for inflation – i.e. in 1993 dollars – using annual median house sales prices, average annual 30-year interest rates, and assuming a 20% downpayment. The average annual compounding CPI inflation rate fluctuated, but averaged approximately 2.4% over the period, and average annual mortgage rates fluctuated from 8.4% to 3.7% (see chart further below), which had a huge impact on financing costs.
Adjusting for inflation and interest rate changes means that though the median sales price is now far above that of 2007, the monthly housing cost is still a little bit below then. This isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison because it doesn’t take into account that the amount of the 20% downpayment increased significantly over the time period. Still, since ongoing cost is typically an important factor for homebuyers (at least those getting financing), this affords another angle on our market.
Over the last 4 years, the big decline in interest rates has largely subsidized the increase in home prices.
In the 2nd quarter, the vast majority of SF home sales sold without prior price reductions; these sold very quickly, at an astounding average of 14.5% over the original list price – clear indications of a white-hot market. For the past 4 years, spring has been by far the most frenzied selling season of the year, and the market usually cools in summer.
Median sales prices are often affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Seasonality; big changes in the distressed, luxury and new-construction market segments or simply the inventory available to purchase;interest rate fluctuations; changes in buyer profile; and other economic variables can all impact median prices. Short term fluctuations are less meaningful than longer term trends.
These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but they may contain errors and are subject to revision. Statistics are generalities and how they apply to any specific property is unknown without a tailored comparative market analysis. Sales statistics of one month generally reflect offers negotiated 4 – 6 weeks earlier. All numbers should be considered approximate.