Special Report: 30 Years of SF Real Estate Cycles (Updated)

30 Years of Housing Market Cycles in San Francisco

Updated Report, September 21, 2013

Below is a look at the past 30 years of San Francisco Bay Area 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. Looking at cycles gives us more context to how the market works over time and where it may be going — much more than dwelling in the immediacy of the present with excitable pronouncements of “The market’s crashing and won’t recover in our lifetimes!” or “The market’s crazy hot and the only place it can go is up!”

1982 – 2013: A Simplified Overview

Up, Down, Flat, Up, Down, Flat…(Repeat)

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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, inflation builds up over the years, and repressed demand of those who want to own their own homes builds up. In the early eighties, mid-nineties and in 2012, after about 4 years of a recessionary housing market, this repressed demand jumps back in (or “explodes” might be a good description) and prices start to rise again. It’s not unusual for a big surge in values to occur in the first couple years after a recovery begins.

Surprisingly consistent: Over the past 30+ years, the period between a recovery beginning and a bubble popping has run approximately 6 years. We are currently something less than 2 years into the current recovery. Periods of market recession/doldrums following the popping of a bubble have typically lasted about 4 to 5 years. Generally speaking, within about 2 years of a new recovery commencing, previous peak values (i.e. those at the height of the previous bubble) are re-attained — among other reasons, there is the recapture of inflation during the doldrums years. In this current recovery, those homes hit hardest by the subprime loan crisis — typically housing at the lowest end of the price scale in the less affluent neighborhoods, which experienced by far the biggest bubble and biggest crash — may take significantly longer to re-attain peak values, but higher priced homes are already doing so.

This does not mean that these recently recurring time periods necessarily reflect some natural law in housing market cycles, or that they can be relied upon to predict the future.

Mortgage Interest Rates since 1981

It’s much harder to decipher any cycles in 30-year mortgage rates over the same period. Despite the rate spike over the summer, rates remain very low by any historical measure, and this, of course, plays a huge role in the ongoing cost of homeownership.

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In the 2 charts below tracking the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index for the 5-County San Francisco Metro Area, the data points 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.

1983 through 1995

(After Recession) Boom, Decline, Doldrums

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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 basically flat for 4 to 5 years. Still, even after the decline, home values were 70% higher than when the boom began in 1984.

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1996 to Present

(After Recession) Boom, Bubble, Crash, Doldrums, Recovery

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This next cycle looks similar but elongated. In 1996, after years of recession, the market suddenly took off and became frenzied — actually quite 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, degraded loan underwriting standards, mortgage securitization, and claims that real estate never declines, super-charged a housing bubble. Overall, from 1996 to 2006/2008, the market went through an astounding period of appreciation. (Different areas hit peak values at times from 2006 to early 2008.) The air started to go out of some markets in 2007, but 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 about 4 years, albeit with a few short-term fluctuations. Supply and demand dynamics began to change in mid-2011, leading to the market recovery of 2012.

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San Francisco from 2010 to 2013

A Strong Recovery

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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 soon followed to experience similar rapid price appreciation.

San Francisco median home sales prices increased dramatically in 2012 and then accelerated further in the first half of 2013. (Note that third quarter figures will probably show a typical seasonal decline from second quarter median prices. There are also seasonal cycles in real estate.) By all appearances, San Francisco and the Bay Area are in the midst of a healthy recovery. Among other positive signs, new home construction is soaring.

All data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and is subject to revision. Copyright 2013 Paragon Real Estate Group.

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The Crunch in San Francisco’s Real Estate Market

Over the last 13 months, for a variety of compelling economic reasons, home-buyer demand in San Francisco has continued to grow ever stronger, while the inventory of homes available to purchase has only become tighter. This is the classic supply and demand dynamic — increased competition for a scarce commodity — that leads to increasing prices. Our inventory crunch, at least so far in 2013, is not easing. This situation is advantageous to sellers, and difficult and aggravating for buyers (and their agents): the time, effort, emotional energy and money that it takes to find and buy a home have all been increasing.

However, if buyers can summon the patience and endurance to see the process through, they might take some solace in the last 2 real estate recoveries, in the eighties and nineties. As can be seen on charts further down, it’s not unusual for repressed buyer demand to explode after a long down market, creating the same rapid appreciation situation we are experiencing now. But even with increasing competition and rising prices, those who purchased in the first few years of the past 2 turnarounds ended up doing very well with their investments. We don’t know if this recovery will continue to follow the same trend lines as past market cycles, but it has thus far.

Below are analyses that look at both short-term and long-term trends from a variety of angles.

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Is Everything Selling Over the Asking Price?
No, of course not: not all listings are selling for over list price. Some homes still go through price reductions and some don’t sell at all, but it is true that a large percentage of SF listings is now selling for over asking price and sometimes far over. This is especially the case with houses, where 1 in 4 sold in the past 2 months went 10% or more over the list price. (Note: Homes selling for within a quarter percent of the list price were considered to have sold AT asking price.) And this link shows the dramatic increase in median home prices in 2012:
Median House & Condo Prices

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New Listings vs. Accepted Offers
There are two issues behind the current low inventory crunch: firstly, there’s the simple matter of fewer listings coming on market, and secondly, that the listings that do arrive are being snatched up very quickly. This chart compares the influx of inventory and buyer demand in January of the last 4 years. Currently, on any given day, the choice of listings available to purchase is far below that of previous years — which fuels fierce competition between buyers. This link illustrates that fact and the overall decline in listings for sale:
Listings for Sale

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Ratio of Expired Listings to Sold Listings
Even in a hot market, not every listing sells: some listings viewed as overpriced end up expiring or being withdrawn. However, the ratio of expired and withdrawn listings to sales declines significantly in a strong market, which is what happened last year. Typically, the fourth quarter is marked by a very high rate of expired and withdrawn listings due to the holiday season and end of the year, but in the last quarter of 2012, buyers continued to aggressively snap up listings. And this link goes to a days-on-market chart illustrating the increasing speed with which buyers are snapping up listings:
Average Days on Market

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Perspective on 3 Recoveries
This Case-Shiller chart for the 5-county SF Metro Area begins with the recovery following the market recession/ doldrums of 1991 – 1995. The market of 1996 and 1997 had basically the same dynamic of repressed demand exploding alongside a recovering economy that we’re experiencing today. (All chart numbers reflect a percentage of the home values in January 2000.) There followed a 100% increase in values over the next 5 years, even before the inflation of the big bubble of 2004-2008. Buyers who bought in the mid-late nineties ended up doing quite well. This link shows the same dynamic in the transition from the late seventies/ early eighties recession to the mid-eighties rebound. Those buying in the early years of that recovery also did pretty well, even factoring in the following recession and market correction:
Market Recovery in the 1980′s

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Supply & Demand
The chart and the one in the following link are two classic measures of supply and demand. The lower the months supply of inventory and the higher the percentage of listings accepting offers, the stronger the demand when compared to the supply of homes available to purchase.
Percentage of Listings Accepting Offers

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Buying vs. Renting in San Francisco
This analysis (just 1 part of a full report) compares buying a 2-bedroom SF home at the current median price of $775,000 to renting a 2-BR at the current average asking rent of $3800. It illustrates how buying can make excellent financial sense after tax benefits and principal pay-down are factored in, much less building substantial home equity over time. In this analysis, the “net” house payment comes out well below the rent. However, these scenarios depend on many assumptions such as interest, appreciation, inflation and income-tax rates. It depends on the rent one is paying and having the 20% down payment and closing cost monies available. Still, there’s no doubt that with current interest rates and rents, the equation is much more favorable to buying than it has been for a very long time. Feel free to perform your own analyses using our Rent vs. Buy calculator, which can be accessed using this link. After putting in your numbers, be sure to click on Calculate and View Report:
Calculators

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