Three Recessions, Two Bubbles and a Baby (Recovery)

30 Years of Housing Market Cycles in San Francisco

Below is a look at the past 30 years of real estate boom and bust cycles. Financial-market cycles have been around for hundreds of years, all the way back to the Dutch tulip mania of the 1600′s. While future cycles will vary in their details, the causes, effects and trend lines are often quite similar.

In the first 2 charts below, tracking the Case-Shiller Home Price Index for the San Francisco 5-County Metro Statistical Area (MSA), the data points are for January of each year and refer to home values as a percentage of those in January 2000. January 2000 equals 100 on the trend line: 66 means prices were 66% of those in January 2000; 175 signifies prices 75% higher.

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1983 through 1995

(After recession) Boom, Decline, Doldrums

In the above chart, the country is just coming out of the late seventies, early eighties recession – huge inflation, stagnant economy (“stagflation”) and incredibly high interest rates (hitting 18%). As the economy recovered, the housing market started to appreciate and this surge in values began to accelerate deeper into the decade. Over 6 years, the market appreciated almost 100%. Finally, the eighties version of irrational exuberance — junk bonds, stock market swindles, the Savings & Loan implosion, as well as the late 1989 earthquake here in the Bay Area — ended the party.

Recession arrived, home prices sank, sales activity plunged and the market stayed flat for 4 years. Still, even after the decline, home values were 70% higher than when the boom began in 1984.

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1996 through 2011

(After Recession) Boom, Bubble, Crash, Doldrums

This next cycle looks similar but elongated. In 1996, after years of recession, the market suddenly took off and became frenzied — similar to what we’re experiencing today. The dotcom bubble pop and September 2001 attacks created a market hiccup, but then the subprime and refinance insanity, CDOs and derivatives, Ponzi schemes, books titled “Dow 30,000″ and claims that real estate never declines, super-charged a housing bubble. From 1996 to 2006/2008, the market went through an astounding period of appreciation. (Different areas hit peak values at different times from 2006 to early 2008.) In September 2008 came the market crash.

Across the country, home values fell 15% to 60%, peak to bottom, depending on the area and how badly it was affected by foreclosures — most of San Francisco got off comparatively lightly with declines in the 15% to 25% range. The least affluent areas got hammered hardest by distressed sales and price declines; the most affluent were typically least affected. Then the market stayed flat for more than 3 years, albeit with a few short-term fluctuations.

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San Francisco in 2012

A Strong but Young Recovery

In 2011, San Francisco began to show signs of perking up. An improving economy and growing buyer demand coupled with a low inventory of listings began to put upward pressure on prices. In 2012, as in 1996, the market abruptly grew frenzied with competitive bidding. The city’s affluent neighborhoods led the recovery, and those considered particularly desirable by newly wealthy, high-tech workers showed the largest gains. However, virtually the entire city is now experiencing a high demand-low supply dynamic.

The SF median house sales price has increased dramatically in 2012, though varying widely by neighborhood. But it’s still a baby recovery — though seemingly a healthy one — and the economy remains susceptible to big financial/political crises. However, the greater Bay Area, the state and the country are ALL beginning to show signs of a housing recovery. New home construction is rising, distressed sales are declining, the rent vs. buy equation has turned favorable to buying, and values are ticking up again.

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The 1983 – 2012 Overview

Up, Down, Flat, Up, Down, Flat (Repeat?)

Smoothing out the bumps delivers this overview for the past 30 years. Whatever the phase of the cycle, up or down, while it’s going on people think it will last forever: Every time the market crashes, the consensus becomes that real estate won’t recover for decades. But the economy mends, the population grows, people start families, and repressed demand of those who want to own their own homes builds up. In the early eighties, mid-nineties and now in 2012, after 3-4 years of a recessionary housing market, this repressed demand jumps back in and prices start to rise again.

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Bay Area Price Declines by Price Range

This chart illustrates the huge differences in the degree of value declines suffered by different price segments of single-family housing in the Bay Area: The lower the price range, the greater the percentage of distressed sales and the larger the declines in values. San Francisco, with its expensive housing, suffered less than most places, though it still certainly suffered. Distressed sales never made up the huge percentage of sales they reached in other counties, and now, with the market rebound, distressed-home listings in SF are rapidly declining.

Very generally speaking, the more affluent areas of the city saw a peak-to-bottom decline in the 15% to 20% range; the city’s middle price range saw 15% to 25% declines; and its lowest price segment went down 25% to 40%. Some neighborhoods are now seeing a rapid reversal of those declines.

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Is San Francisco an Exceptional Market?

Comparing Rates of Appreciation & Decline with Other Market Areas

Every market is different, and San Francisco is very different from the rest of the state and country, even from counties across the bay: Demographically, economically, culturally, in its severe limitations on growth — we can’t expand like Las Vegas or Phoenix or most counties — and in its overall desirability as a place to live and work.

The above charts illustrate how that translates into home values. Comparing the city, Bay Area, California and United States over the past 20 years, San Francisco home values appreciated more, declined less after the crash, and now appear to be recovering more quickly.

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Note on Methods and Data Sets

Calculating home price percentage changes, such as increases to or declines from peak value, are notoriously variable. The most dramatic results — and most often quoted in the media — come from picking the absolute highest value or lowest value month as the point of comparison. But monthly data often fluctuates dramatically without great significance, and we typically prefer quarterly or annual statistics if available. However, if a market is changing quickly, then monthly data must be used to illuminate the incipient trend. Still, sustained longer-term trends are always the most meaningful.

The above charts use a variety of data sets: S&P Case-Shiller Indices, San Francisco MLS sales and median sales prices from state and national Realtor Associations. Each has its own specific market area, property types and time period tracked, and methodology. These analyses were performed in good faith to create what we believe are true, if only approximate, reflections of market trends over time.

Percentage increases and declines are not created equal: A price jump from $500,000 to $1,000,000 equals a 100% increase, but falling back from $1,000,000 to $500,000, the same dollar change equals only a 50% decline.

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San Francisco Market is Stuck

July 2012 Market Update

If you wish, you may jump straight to the market charts.

The SF real estate market is stuck. Stuck in high gear: huge buyer demand + the lowest interest rates in history + extremely low inventory of listings = (often ferocious) competitive bidding and increasing prices. Though this trend began in the city’s more affluent areas, it has now spread to virtually every neighborhood, property type and price segment. Since closed sales activity follows the time of offer acceptance by 4 to 8 weeks, the appreciation in home values has not yet shown up in the statistics for certain neighborhoods. We believe it will soon.

Though this situation is to the advantage of sellers (after years of market doldrums), homebuyers might take some consolation in the fact that the last time the market dramatically shifted after a similar downturn, in 1996 after the early nineties recession, there was a market frenzy much like ours today. However, people who bought at that time still ended up doing very well by getting in at the beginning of a market rebound that went on for many years, even before the housing-bubble years began. And interest rates then were close to double today’s.

When reviewing the map analyses below, remember that median and average statistics are generalities, and how they apply to any specific property is unknown. Percentage changes should be taken with a grain of salt: some neighborhoods have relatively small numbers of sales, which make statistics less reliable; in other areas, it may simply be that the size/quality mix of homes sold shifted from one period to the other — this happens. Still, overall, it is clear that the city is experiencing a general surge in home values.

Explanations for the statistics referenced can be found on the Paragon website: Statistical Definitions

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SF Median House Prices and Appreciation

Many of the city’s neighborhoods are showing significant increases in the house median sales price, and this appears to be accelerating as we get deeper into the year. Those areas not yet showing significant change are expected to show increases in the next quarter’s statistics.


Median Condo Prices and Appreciation
Many neighborhoods are showing significant increases in the condo median sales price, and this appears to be accelerating. (However, as an example of how statistics are not 100% reliable, the chart shows no appreciation for Pacific and Presidio Heights condos over the past year: we believe there was indeed significant appreciation on par with most other nearby affluent areas, but the statistic is reflecting other factors, such as different inventories for sale during the two periods being compared.)


Average Dollar per Square Foot
Average dollar per square foot has been increasing in 2012, and this appears to be accelerating.


San Francisco Dollar Volume Sales
Two factors affect dollar volume: the number of sales and the average sales price. In 2012 both of these statistics have been jumping in the city.


SF Unit Home Sales
The number of sales reported to MLS has jumped to its highest number in over 4 years. However, there are two additional factors: new-development condo sales which are often not reported to MLS are lower than in many previous years due to the crash in building after 2008 (though this is turning around too). On the other hand, it appears that the number of “off-market” sales, not listed in or reported to MLS, has surged in 2012.


Home Sales by Property Type
Houses and condos make up the great majority of sales in San Francisco, though TIC sales seem to be making a big recovery in the low-inventory situation the city has found itself in.


Home Sales by Price Range
As the market has heated up, prices have risen and distressed home listings have plunged. This is causing something of a shift upward in the percentage of sales in the higher price segments.


Average Sales Price: Short Term Trend
Average sales price and median sales price are different statistics, but they’re both showing the same trend in San Francisco.


Price Reductions, Sales Price to List Price Percentage & Days on Market
Houses selling without a price reduction are growing as a percentage of sales. They are averaging well over the asking price and selling in the shortest time period in years.


SF Luxury Home Sales
Homes selling for over $1,500,000 hit their highest level in years in the second quarter of 2012.


2-Bedroom Condo Prices: Long-Term Trends
These neighborhoods have all been showing significant price appreciation since the home-price crash in 2008-2009. If this chart went back to 1995, it would show that median prices pretty much doubled between 1995 and 2000.


Expired and Withdrawn Listings
As the market gets hotter, fewer listings expire without selling. Right now,the percentage of expired and withdrawn listings is incredibly low.


Percentage of Listings Accepting Offers
The stronger the buyer demand and the lower the inventory, the higher the percentage of listings accepting offers. Every San Francisco property type is at its highest percentage in many years, and perhaps its highest ever.

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