No one can say there weren’t challenges to the Bay Area housing market last year – everything from extremely tight inventory to spiraling prices in some cities to new federal lending rules. But the Bay Area housing market, by and large, shrugged all that off and turned in a stellar performance in 2015, according to new reports.
Single-family home sales in the nine-county Bay Area rose 7.6 percent last year compared to 2014, the highest volume since 2012, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury this week. Some of the biggest gains were in the East Bay, due to buyers coming from higher-priced markets in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Contra Costa County saw home sales surge 15.1 percent last year.
According to industry analyst CoreLogic, a total of 7,876 new and existing homes and condos sold in December, up 26.5 percent from November and 17.4 percent from December 2014. “Last month’s San Francisco Bay Area home sales were the highest for a December in nine years, and made for a strong 2015,” said Andrew LePage, research analyst with CoreLogic.
But CoreLogic said the steep gains came with one caveat: December got a partial boost from some transactions that normally would have been recorded in November, but were delayed by days or weeks as the industry adjusted to new federal mortgage rules that took effect in October. Nonetheless, the delays probably accounted for just a small portion of the increase.
The median sale price for all homes sold in December in the Bay Area hit $655,000, up a whopping 12.9 percent year over year from December 2014’s level of $580,000. Last month’s price was just 1.5 percent below the peak of the market in June and July of 2007.
Looking ahead to 2016, CoreLogic said that affordability could be stretched if mortgage rates rise. But it’s also possible, the firm said, that with refinancing activity declining, lenders will put more emphasis on purchase lending, which means that some buyers could find more favorable loan terms.
Below is a market-by-market report from our local San Francisco Bay Area offices:
North Bay – Inventory is at an all time low in all price ranges, reports our Greenbrae manager. The few properties that are new on the market are flying out the door. One of our listings in San Rafael for $1.1 million received 11 offers. A listing in Mill Valley for $850,000 also received 11 offers. The biggest challenge in convincing would be sellers to move is their concern of no place to go, she notes. Buyer activity is still strong in mid-January, says our Santa Rosa Bicentennial office manager. A recent open house in the pouring rain had over 50 groups through a $700,000 listing. Inventory remains the restricting issue to market performance. The high-end market has seen an increase in buyer activity in the last few weeks. This has equated to a fair number of showings, but buyers are still taking time before they choose to write offers. Our Southern Marin manager says January has been slow due to carry over from the holidays, record low inventory and stock market turbulence. On a positive note, CB-Southern Marin this week listed two luxury homes in Mill Valley for $5,495,000 and $6,900,000. The activity has been robust with showings scheduled. Overall, there are only 187 active listings in Marin, a record low number. Consequently, homes listed under $1 million are receiving up to 12 offers.
San Francisco – Lakeside office agents report heavy attendance at open houses and what appears to be a whole new population of buyers who are just entering the market. On the listing side, properties are still dribbling in with some reports of intentions to bring property on market after the Super Bowl. Our Market Street office manager says sales and listings seem to be an endangered species right now. While many sellers are waiting for the Super Bowl to pass before coming to the market, buyers are clogging the open houses and broker tours of those few intrepid sellers that were ready to go in January. The demand is there. Where is the inventory?
SF Peninsula – Inventory is still very low in the Burlingame area, and the local market is still slow from the holidays. But our Burlingame North manager says there has been an increase in listings recently. Open houses are busy in the Half Moon Bay area, and there is lots of activity with both buyers and potential sellers. Buyers are waiting for an increase in inventory and the sellers are trying to get the property ready to list. In her decades of experience in this area, our Menlo Park manager has never seen the market so low on inventory – even for this time of year. Buyers are out in droves yet after last week in the equity markets, they are a bit in a wait and see attitude. Properties are still moving quickly but there are more buyers than actual ‘bidders’ right now, she says. Anything under $1.4 million is getting a lot of attention and selling quickly. $5-6 million homes are becoming more and more common in Menlo Park. Inventory is seasonally low in Palo Alto, but demand is still there. Amazingly there is still an incredible lack of inventory all over the Peninsula, says our Redwood City manager. Because of this almost all offers are multiple offers. There still are a lot of buyers with sufficient funds to purchase but due to the lack of inventory there is a tremendous amount of frustration. More inventory is hitting the San Mateo area market, our local manager says. Agents have a number of listings inked and ready to come on in the next couple of weeks. The market is “moribund” right now in the country offices, reports our Portola Valley-Woodside manager. But she says that this area always seems slow to start the new year.
East Bay – The market is off to a slow start in Berkeley. There are 14 new listings in Berkeley the past two weeks. This is a great time for sellers; there is virtually no competition and interest rates have remained low. Open houses are still seeing over 100 groups in any price range. A property listed at $1.75 million had over 130 groups and a duplex listed at $1.250 million had over 100 groups. Open house activity is very brisk, says our Oakland-Piedmont manager. At one open house there were over 150 groups on Saturday and 200+ on Sunday. But due to the lack of inventory not much is going into contract. In December the amount of new listings in the MLS was down almost 41% over 2014 and it looks like January is following suit. Agents are getting new listings but very few are coming out before the end of February/beginning of March.
Silicon Valley – New inventory is slow to hit the Cupertino area market. The few new open houses our local agents held had 200-300 visitors in some cases. There are currently 25 homes for sale in Los Gatos, down 40% from the same time last year, reports our Los Gatos manager. The San Jose Almaden market has been more of the same with lower inventory than previous years, although it has increased since December. Buyers aren’t waiting to write up offers. Most of the listings are going into contract during the first weekend of open houses. A 1,330 square foot SFR in Santa Clara (with Cupertino HS) that had a list price of $895,000 received 46 offers and sold for $1,330,000. With the New Year underway the post-holiday local Willow Glen market is busy although it is still experiencing extremely low listing inventory. The year started with only 23 active listings and dropped to 21 in week two. Open houses are jammed, and multiple offers well over list price are the norm. Agents all have a bounty of buyers they are trying to get into something.
South County – The listing inventory throughout South County remains at record low levels. This week only 35 homes (single family and condos) were listed for sale in Morgan Hill and just seven were priced under $800,000. In Gilroy the selection is a little better, with 64 active listings, but only nine listed for under $700,000. Demand, however, remains very, very strong and buyers seem to be willing to pay over list price (often without an appraisal contingency) in order to obtain a home. This week a Morgan Hill agent wrote a cash offer for a San Jose condo—offering in excess of $50,000 over the asking price, only to be outbid. At this point, it seems that there is just not enough supply to meet demand—thus driving prices higher and higher. Agents have been encouraged to get the word out to potential sellers that now is the time to list your home.
Santa Cruz County – The inventory of active single-family homes in Santa Cruz County is historically low at less than 200. Sales have stayed higher than this time last year, but the market needs more inventory as demand has stayed strong. The average amount of days it takes for a home to sell is 51 with a sale to list price ratio of 99.2%. Values appreciated 4.5% in 2015 with an average sales price of $797,777 compared to $763,767 in 2014. Just about 1/2 of the homes active on the market are over $1 million. More Previews Properties went pending than came on the market for the first few weeks of January. The average days to sell a Previews Property is quite low at 56 days right now, at a sale to list price ratio of 95.7%.
Monterey Peninsula – The new year is starting out strong with several new listings and ratified contracts in the pipeline, reports our Monterey Peninsula manager. Agents continue to see out of area buyers shopping the area for that vacation home or future retirement property. With the current state of the stock market, hopefully investors are putting their money in a “safe haven” of coastal real estate. We are just two weeks away from the start of the Pebble Beach Pro Am and anticipate much attention on real estate.
Market Watch is a bi-weekly column by Coldwell Banker San Francisco Bay Area president Mike James. Click here to view past issues.