San Francisco Real Estate November 2019 Report

Using six-month-rolling figures for monthly median sales prices smooths out the often meaningless monthly fluctuations to illustrate broad, long-term appreciation trends with more clarity.

Home Sales Volume by Month

A crystal clear illustration of the role of seasonality in the SF real estate market. Starting in November activity begins to plunge towards the mid-winter nadir. Remember that November sales volumes mostly reflect October accepted-offer activity. Market activity hits bottom in December, which makes January the month with the lowest sales volume.

Home Sales & Median Prices by District
HOUSE Sales & Median Sales Prices

Note that districts often include neighborhoods of varying values and that the district median sales prices quoted reflect combined sales. Median prices are broad generalities useful for comparative values and home-price trends, but how they apply to any particular home is unknown without a specific comparative market analysis.

Median sales prices broken out by neighborhood, property type and bedroom count are also available upon request.

Condo, Co-op & TIC Sales by District
2-BR, 2-BA Condo Median Sales Prices

Luxury Home Sales

Sales of homes of $3 million and above in October were a little below the number in October 2018, but looking at September-October sales, there were gains over same-period sales in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Sales vs. Listings for Sale by Price Segment

Market Dynamics by Property Type & Price Segment

Location is, of course, always important in real estate value – within the the city and within the neighborhood – but to a large degree, market dynamics within San Francisco are also determined by the property type and the price segment. And individual neighborhoods and districts will usually have homes in several or even all of the price segments broken out in the 3 charts below, with these segments seeing differing supply and demand conditions.

Generally speaking, demand is stronger and supply is lower (as compared to demand) for houses over condos. For both houses and condos, market dynamics are somewhat softer in the higher price segments, especially above the $3 million price threshold for condos, and in the $5 million+ price segment for houses.

People Moving in & out of CA in 2018

According to new census estimates, approx. 501,000 people from other states moved to CA in 2018, while 691,000 Californians relocated to other states – a net loss of 190,000. In addition, an estimated 284,000 foreign nationals moved into CA from outside the country. (Foreign out-migration numbers are not available.)

The top states for out-migration are Texas, Arizona, Washington, Nevada & Oregon, states with high-tech centers of their own and/or no state income taxes, and/or significantly lower housing costs – thus attracting working residents, local businesses, and retirees. Updated Bay Area figures are not yet available, though migration trends here have generally paralleled state trends in recent years.

Sales Without Price Reductions & Withdrawn (No-Sale) Listings

The following 2 charts illustrate both year-over-year changes in market conditions and the role of seasonality within the calendar year.

Last year saw a big jump in the number of listings pulled off the market without selling in December – this was a particularly volatile time in financial markets and interest rates were relatively high. The situation with both of those factors has changed dramatically in 2019, but it is too early to see how that will affect the number of listings withdrawn in the last 2 months of this year.

San Francisco Real Estate

Neighborhood House & Condo Prices; Short-Term & Long-Term Appreciation Trends; Population Migration In & Out of the City.

After the heat of the spring market, activity typically slows down markedly in July and August. In September, listings start pouring on the market again to fuel the relatively short autumn selling season – in fact, September is typically the single month with the highest number of new listings. Autumn is also a very important time for the luxury home market – luxury house sales often peak for the year in October.

What occurs in the next 2 months, before the mid-winter holiday doldrums begin, will be the next major indicator of market conditions and direction.

Migration: People Moving In & Out
of San Francisco

Using new U.S. Census estimates released 8/29/19, this chart attempts to identify U.S. counties, states and international regions with the highest number of residents migrating to and from our county. In the Bay Area, there is a general trend outward from more expensive to more affordable places, while in-bound migration is deeply affected not only by exchanges between Bay Area counties, but people arriving from other parts of the state, country and world. Areas often have large two-way exchanges of residents.

Foreign in-migration is a huge issue in SF and the Bay Area, but it will be another year before any impact of new U.S. immigration policy on foreign in-migration in 2018 shows up in census numbers. The census estimates foreign in-migration in this analysis, but not foreign out-migration.

Short-Term & Long-Term Trends
in Median Home Prices

San Francisco is out-performing the Bay Area – most of the other counties have seen 3% to 5% declines in median home prices since peaking in spring 2018, while the city saw a new monthly peak in June and a new quarterly peak in Q2. It has been suggested that the differentiating factor in SF has been the high number of large, local, high-tech IPOs occurring this year since early spring.

In the next chart, the 2019 YTD median sales prices should be considered preliminary until full year data is in. Note that it is more difficult to compare annual median condo prices on an apples-to-apples basis because of the huge number of new construction condos – many at higher prices – coming on market in the last few years. Comparing 2019 YTD to 2018, the median house sales price is about the same, even though new monthly and quarterly peaks were hit year to date.

Supply & Demand Dynamics since 2005

The chart below compares supply, the number of active listings on the market, with demand, as measured by the number of sales. This is a 12-month-rolling graph that smooths out normal monthly fluctuations to provide clearer historical trend lines.

San Francisco Home Prices & Appreciation
by Neighborhood & District

The next long series of charts and tables looks first at house prices by neighborhood, and then at condo and co-op prices. We’ll start with our neighborhood/ Realtor District map for easy reference.

San Francisco Median House Sales Prices
by District & Neighborhood

San Francisco Median Condo Sales Prices
by District & Neighborhood

San Francisco Bay Area Real Estate Markets Survey

Note that it is not unusual for median home sales prices to peak for the calendar year in spring (Q2). This is due not only to heightened buyer demand, but also to the extreme seasonality of the luxury home market – more luxury home sales (as a percentage of total sales) pull overall median sales prices up.

Year-over-Year Median Home-Price Appreciation (or Depreciation) Rates

Markets in late 2017 through spring 2018 were very hot virtually throughout the Bay Area – perhaps the hottest they’ve been since 2000, the height of the dotcom boom. In the second half of 2018, markets cooled considerably – besides issues of simple affordability, financial markets saw nerve-wracking volatility and large declines, and interest rates jumped dramatically. Then, in 2019, stock markets recovered to hit new peaks and interest rates hit multi-year lows, and markets heated up again.

However, generally speaking, except for those markets most affected by the slew of local high-tech IPOs – San Francisco and the greater Oakland market – most markets saw either no significant year-over-year appreciation or year-over-year declines in median house sales prices. (Santa Cruz County bucked this trend.) The next major indicator of market direction will come from autumn selling season data: The season runs from early-mid September to early-mid November. Markets then typically go into the mid-winter holiday doldrums for a couple months.

Bay Area & California Long-Term Median House Price Trends

Median House Sales Price Trends by Bay Area County

Compound Annual Home Price Appreciation Rates

When calculating these rates, results can vary enormously depending on the year the calculation begins with. These start with the year 2000 – if we started with 1995 – prices rapidly appreciated between 1995 and 2000 – the rates would jump; if we began with 2007 – the height of the subprime boom – then the rates would drop. (The same issue exists with calculating stock market returns.)

These very approximate calculations do not reflect any of the tax benefits that have applied at various times to home ownership and to the sale of one’s primary residence. And they are based simply on the all-cash purchase price and the sales price, without adjusting for closing costs (or the effect of not paying all cash upon purchase).

Bay Area House & Lot Sizes

Bay Area Median Condo Values

Bay Area Median Dollar per Square Foot Values

Bay Area Luxury Home Markets

Median Sales Prices for Large Homes in Expensive Bay Area Markets

High-end home markets in outlying counties – the four with the lowest percentages in the chart below – have softened considerably, and would typically be considered to be in buyer’s market territory – much more supply than demand. This doesn’t mean, however, that some luxury homes there don’t sell quickly at excellent prices. It does mean that many luxury homes don’t sell without price reductions, or don’t sell at all.

In many ways, average dollar per square foot values give a better indication of what one actually gets for one’s dollar in different counties.

Bay Area & U.S. Home Prices, Appreciation Trends & Affordability

The next chart illustrates the dramatic divergence since 2012 between Bay Area home price appreciation – supercharged by the high-tech boom – and the national trend line.

Median 3-Bedroom Home Sales Prices around the Country

Active Listings on the Market

Home Sales Volumes

Bay Area Home Sales by Price Segment

Bay Area Real Estate Market Indicators

Below are a wide variety of standard market statistics broken out by county or region to illustrate respective market conditions, as well as overall trend lines to illustrate the general market direction and the effect of seasonality on supply and demand.

Looking just at 2019 YTD stats, the greater Oakland-Berkeley market has been the strongest in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, the picture is muddied a little by the fact that the city’s house and condo markets have somewhat different dynamics: New-condo construction has increased supply in that segment, while the supply of house listings has declined markedly since 2010, making houses the scarce resource in a high-demand environment.

Price Reductions & Listings Expiring without Selling

San Francisco Bay Area Median House Sales Prices by City

Bay Area Median List Rents

Selected Economic & Demographic Factors

Behind the real estate boom is the stupendous boom in hiring, specifically in the high-tech fields.

Migration & Population Trends

Housing Affordability in the San Francisco Bay Area

Home Prices, Appreciation & Ownership Costs; Affordability Percentages, Household Incomes, Interest Rates, Rents & Homelessness. August 2019 Report – including 30 illustrative charts.

Housing affordability may be the largest social and political issue in the Bay Area, and the effects of low affordability also greatly impact the general economic picture in a wide variety of important ways – from hiring and business relocation, to the ability of “normal working people” (not enriched by the high-tech boom) to live here. Significant demographic shifts are also taking place as some groups move out and others move in.

Generally speaking, affordability percentages – the percentage of county households who could afford to purchase a median-priced house – ticked up in Q2 2019 as compared to Q2 2018: Median home sales prices were relatively stable year-over-year – some counties up a bit, some down a bit, some the same – but interest rates dropped very significantly over the 12 month period. However, affordability percentages remain low by historical standards – and the Bay Area typically has among the lowest in the nation.

Note: Counties contain cities, and cities contain neighborhoods of varying values, market conditions and trends.

Calculations on affordability percentages, home payments and household incomes are based upon the California Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index, measuring the percentage of county households able to afford to buy a median priced house with a 20% down-payment at prevailing mortgage interest rates.

The next 2 charts are excerpted from the very in-depth report, “Bay Area Homelessness: A Regional View of a Regional Crisis” put out by Bay Area Council Economic Institute, published April 2019.

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific comparative market analysis. These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

San Francisco Real Estate August 2019 Report

Sales & Values by District and Price Segment, Special Circumstance Sales, Market Seasonality, the Luxury Home Market & Foreign Buyers. The May Case-Shiller Home Price Index was released in late July for the 5-county SF metro area. This chart illustrates the difference in appreciation rates between the Bay Area (higher price markets) and the entire country. Case-Shiller does not use median sales prices but its own algorithm to calculate appreciation. January 2000 home price = 100; 250 = a home price 150% above that of Jan. 2000.

Needless to say, there are many factors behind home sales and values in different communities. Home size is one of them, and median sales prices are not apples to apples comparisons: For example, in Pacific Heights, the average house size is over 4000 square feet, while in Sunnyside, it runs about 1500 square feet.

Note that it is not uncommon for median sales prices to peak for the year in Q2.

Market Dynamics by Realtor District

Q2 is commonly the hottest market of the calendar year, and the statistics below generally reflect a very strong spring 2019 market.

Home Sales by Price Range

Of homes selling for under $1,000,000, over 80% were condos, co-ops and TICs, and most of those were smaller units.

Tenants, Fixer-Uppers, Homes without Parking, Homes with Golden Gate Bridge Views

Market Seasonality: The Autumn Spike,
Then the Winter Doldrums

Though spring is the biggest overall selling season in San Francisco, the single month with the highest number of new listings is typically September. This big surge fuels the relatively short autumn selling season – highlighted by the dramatic spike in sales in October. In November, activity begins to plunge for the mid-winter holidays – though homes continue to sell in every season.

Seasonality: New Listings by Month

New Listings – Long-Term Trends,
12-Month Rolling Figures

Seasonality: Listings Going into Contract
by Month

Higher-Price Home Sales

The central greater Noe-Eureka-Cole Valleys district now has the highest number of home sales over $2 million, but the northern Pacific Heights-Cow Hollow district dominates sales of $5 million and above.

The SF luxury home market is even more dramatically driven by seasonality than the general market. September often sees a tremendous burst of new listings. October is sometimes the single month with the most luxury house sales.

Long-Term Appreciation Trends by District

Though prices vary, appreciation trend lines since the recovery began in 2012 are often relatively similar.

In the next chart, we combine house sales across the swathe of older, prestige neighborhoods that run across the north of the city – generally speaking, a region of larger houses and higher prices. (Putting them on the chart above would flatten the other trend lines due to issues of scale.) None of these neighborhoods have that many sales – and some have very, very few – so we combine them to increase statistical reliability. Though they are all high-price, prices do vary considerably between them.

Median Two-Bedroom Condo Prices
by Realtor District

There is significantly less variation in condo prices in most of the neighborhoods of SF than there is with houses. Much of this has to do with all the new construction that has occurred in the last 20 years. Probably the greatest differences in condo values are between those on lower floors and those on higher floors of new luxury high-rises.

Percentage of Sales Selling for Over List Price
by Property Type

Median Percentage of Sales Price to List Price
by Property Type

Foreign National Home Buying Tumbles

According to a new report by the National Association of Realtors – based on a survey of its member agents – the purchase of U.S. homes by foreign nationals plunged in the 12 months through March 2019. The drop was particularly steep for Chinese nationals, for whom California (and the Bay Area, in particular) has been the top destination.

Stock Market Hits New High

The last 12 months have been an extremely dramatic time for financial markets as illustrated below. The alternating confidence and fear generated by its swings have been considerable factors in Bay Area real estate markets. A parallel dynamic has occurred with the swings in interest rates.

The spring burst in high-tech IPOs in San Francisco also played a role in the heat of the Q2 market.

CoreLogic S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index Update

The CoreLogic S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index does not evaluate median sales price changes, but employs its own proprietary algorithm to measure home price appreciation over time. Since its indices cover large areas – for example, the San Francisco Metro Area is comprised of 5 counties – which themselves contain communities of widely varying home values, the C-S chart numbers do not refer to specific prices, but instead reflect prices as compared to those prevailing in January 2000, which are all designated as having a consistent value of 100. A reading of 250 signifies that home prices have appreciated 150% above the price prevailing in January 2000.

Case-Shiller divides all the house sales into thirds, or tiers: The third of sales with the lowest prices is the low-price tier; the third of sales with the highest sales prices is the high-price tier; and the third in between is the mid-price. The price ranges of these tiers change as the market changes. The 3 price tiers experienced dramatically different bubbles, crashes and recoveries over the past 18+ years, to a large degree determined by how badly the tier was affected by the subprime financing crisis. The low price tier was worst affected – huge bubble, huge crash, most dramatic recovery – and the high price least affected (but still significantly affected).

Most house sales in expensive counties such as San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo, as well as affluent communities in other Bay Area counties are in the “high price tier”, and many would qualify for an “ultra-high-price tier,” if such existed. All counties, to varying degrees, have sales in all 3 price tiers.

The Index is published 2 months after the month delineated – the May 2019 index was released 7/30/19 – reflects a 3- month rolling calculation, and one month’s sales generally reflect accepted-offer activity in the previous month. The Index is looking into a rear-view mirror at the market 3 to 5 months ago: The May 2019 reading, released in late July, mostly reflects market conditions in February – April 2019.

The 5 counties in our Case-Shiller Metro Statistical Area are San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa: Alameda and Contra Costa are by far the largest markets; SF itself comprises only about 7% of house sales in the metro area. We believe the Index generally applies to other Bay Area counties, such as Sonoma and Santa Clara, though those 2 have had somewhat softer markets over the past year. There are hundreds of unique real estate markets in such a broad region, with different dynamics, moving at varying speeds, sometimes in different directions. How the C-S Index applies to any particular property is impossible to know without a specific comparative market analysis.

San Francisco Median Home Prices Hit New Peaks – Compass Q2 Market Report

High stock markets, low interest rates, surging luxury home sales, limited inventory, a spring full of unicorn IPOs, and San Francisco – once again -hits new highs in median home sales prices.

July 2019 Update

After 2 quarters of no or negative year-over-year home price appreciation, a confluence of positive economic factors sent San Francisco median home sales prices to new peaks in Q2. On a quarterly basis, the median house sales price hit $1,700,000 – $80,000 above the previous peak in Q2 2018 – powered by a monthly high of $1,770,000 achieved in June. For condos, the new quarterly median price peak was $1,250,00 – slightly above last year’s $1,235,000 – fueled by a new monthly high of $1,300,000 in June.

The market typically slows down significantly in San Francisco for the summer holidays through August before picking up again in September for a busy, though relatively short autumn selling season running through mid-November.

Median Home Sales Price Trends

Sales & Prices by Property Type & Bedroom Count

Average Dollar per Square Foot Analyses

San Francisco Luxury Home Sales
Hit New Peaks in Q2 2019

The first chart below breaks out luxury homes as defined by houses selling for $3 million and above, and condos, co-ops and TICs selling for $2 million or more.

The second chart looks at all home sales of $5 million plus.

Selected Supply & Demand Statistics

Average days on market – all sales (chart 1), then broken out by property type and price segment (chart 2). Changing a pattern seen in recent years, Q2 2019 often saw the strongest buyer demand in higher price segments, instead of the more affordable price ranges.

Sales price to original list price percentages by property type and price segment – these statistics generally mirror those seen above in the days on market analysis. Some of these percentages are stupendously high, reflecting torrid bidding competitions between buyers for appealing new listings.

Percentage of Listings Accepting Offers
(i.e. Going into Contract)

Percentage of Active Listings
with 1 or More Price Reductions

The effect of over-pricing – as signified by price reductions prior to sale – on the average sales price to list price percentage, average days on market, and average dollar per square foot values.

Mortgage Interest Rate Trends since 1981

San Francisco Bay Area Home Prices
by City, Town & Selected City Neighborhoods

Plenty of Bay Area buyers, but why are they hesitant?

Executive Summary:

  • While April’s momentum is slightly slower in May, May sales are still only 2 percent below last year’s highs after double-digit declines earlier in the year.
  • Home sales momentum remains solid in East Bay. Napa sales finally jumped 6 percent after a 6-month losing streak, averaging 20 percent annual declines.
  • Affordable sales picked up again with sales of homes priced below $1 million up 3 percent year-over-year, the first two-month consecutive annual increase in the last four years.
  • For-sale inventory growth is slowing after the winter jump with homes averaging seven days longer on the market.
  • San-Francisco continues to see significant inventory declines with May down 19 percent YOY (four months of declines averaging 20 percent).
  • Buyer competition picks up again with 58 percent of homes selling over the asking price.
  • Bay Area housing market correction resembles “Table Top” with prices remaining flat, compared to “Mountain Top” seen in the last cycle when prices fell significantly following the peak.

Following a solid improvement in the Bay Area housing markets in April, May homes sales activity continued with the momentum, albeit slower. Total home sales were 2 percent below last May, following April’s upwardly revised 1 percent year-over-year decline. The rate of declines has slowed considerably after double-digit declines seen in the first few months of 2019. Taking the first five months of the year together, sales are 5 percent below last year.

However, while declines continue to be driven by slower sales in Santa Clara and San Mateo, East Bay home sales are keeping the momentum. Napa sales jumped 6 percent after a 6-month losing streak, averaging 20 percent annual declines. San Francisco, the spotlight of expectations around IPO impacts, remained relatively flat with last year, down 1 percent, though San Francisco sales peaked last May at the highest numbers of May sales in at least the last four years. Overall, most all markets except Sonoma saw improvement in sales in at least one price range. Table 1 summarizes year-over-year changes in the number of homes sold by price range.

Table 1

Source: Source: Terradatum, Inc. from data provided by local MLSes, June 7, 2019

As noted in last month’s analysis, the most encouraging improvement considering Bay Area’s affordability concerns is the increase in sales of homes priced below $1 million, which showed its first two-month consecutive annual increase in the last four years. Figure 1 illustrates the trend of year-over-year changes in home sales by price range.  As Table 1 suggests, the increase in lower priced sales is mostly driven by East Bay, but also Santa Clara where lower priced sales have been increasing since the beginning of the year after drops averaging 40+ percent in 2018.  In contrast, San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin continued to see declines in lower priced sales as that inventory has largely disappeared – for example, in the three regions, less than a third of homes available for sale are priced below $1 million.

Figure 1 Year-over-year change in the number of homes sold

Source: Source: Terradatum, Inc. from data provided by local MLSes, June 7, 2019

The increase in lower priced homes has been helped by raising inventories of lower price ranges. Figure 2 traces out the trends in inventory growth over the last couple of years. Currently, available inventory levels are on average 15 percent above last year with inventories priced over $3 million continuing to increase at a relatively faster pace, followed by increase in inventory priced between $1 million and $2 million. Inventory of homes below $1 million has slowed from the winter jump, but still remain at double-digit growth. Nevertheless, while inventory growth is steady, it’s largely due to homes taking longer on the market rather than new listings becoming available. The rate of new listings has fallen significantly since the winter jump, particularly for lower priced homes. To see the aging of for-sale inventories, Table 2 summarizes average days on market for homes that were still available for sale on May 31.  On average, current inventory has been on the market for 47 days, or at least 7 days longer than last.

Figure 2 Year-over-year change in number of homes for sale by price range

Source: Source: Terradatum, Inc. from data provided by local MLSes, June 7, 2019

Table 2

Source: Source: Terradatum, Inc. from data provided by local MLSes, June 7, 2019

Furthermore, while buyer competition is not at the same level as last summer, when housing market activity peaked, it continues to ramp up from slower start to 2019. Seasonally, buyer competition peaks in May with the highest rate of homes selling over the asking price in a given year. This May, almost 6 in 10 homes sold over the asking price, which is below the last three years when about 7 to 8 in 10 homes sold over the asking price, but still suggest solid buyer demand. Figure 3 illustrates the trend in the share of homes selling over the asking price. Regionally, the difference from last May has been smallest in San Francisco, where 72 percent of homes are still selling over the asking price, down from 75 percent last May. The most notable decline in buyer competition remains in Santa Clara where 56 percent of homes are selling over the asking price, down from 89 percent.

Figure 3 Share of homes selling over the asking price

Source: Source: Terradatum, Inc. from data provided by local MLSes, June 7, 2019

As noted in the last month’s analysis, San Francisco’s housing market resilience remains further evident in absorption rates of available inventory, which is up 8 percent points compared to last May and is the only area where absorption rate has increased on an annual basis. Granted, San Francisco is also the only region where inventory continues to decline, down 19 percent in May. This brings us to the question around the impact of recent and anticipated IPOs. While it doesn’t appear that San Francisco housing is bubbling out of control, it is difficult to say where it would be in the counterfactual. In other words, would the market currently be worse off or similar to where it is if it wasn’t for the IPO expectations?

In the least, it is clear that the strength of the Bay Area economy and continued job growth is driving solid demand from buyers across the region, both for affordably priced homes as well as higher-priced homes. And while the number of sales is lower than last year, it is important to keep in mind that last summer housing market activity peaked, and current conditions are suggesting leveling off or normalization of those unsustainable trends, particularly in areas in Silicon Valley or post-fire Sonoma. Further, buyers, may are holding off fearing that housing market correction is inevitable and are waiting for sellers to yield further and lower their expectations. And while recent softening of price growth suggest correction is under way, it is unlikely that it will be the correction that we saw in the last housing cycle. Credit conditions are significantly different than in the last cycle. The current housing boom was driven by exceptionally solid underwriting and significant share of all-cash purchases, coupled with almost negligible new construction growth, both of which suggest that the correction path is looking notably different. In the Pacific Union Real Estate Economic Forecast 2020. “Table Top” is unlike the “Mountain Peak” seen during the last housing cycle in 2004 to 2017 when home prices rapidly declined as much as 60 percent following the peak.

Figure 4  John Burns Home Value Index

Source: Pacific Union International Real Estate Economic Forecast, San Francisco Bay Area to 2020

30+ Years of Housing Market Cycles in the San Francisco Bay Area

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, from the Dutch tulip mania of the 1600’s through today’s speculative frenzy in digital-currencies. 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!”

Note: Most of these charts generally apply to higher-priced Bay Area housing markets, such as those found in much of San Francisco, Marin, Central Contra Costa (Lamorinda & Diablo Valley) and San Mateo Counties. (Different market price segments had bubbles, crashes – or adjustments – and recoveries of differing magnitudes in the last cycle, which is addressed at the end of this report.)

Regardless of how recent cycles have played out, it is vital to understand how extremely difficult it is to predict when different parts of a cycle will begin or end. Case in point: In late 2015, when financial markets entered into a period of volatility, IPO activity stopped in its tracks, and high-tech hiring slowed, a well-respected Berkeley economist prophesied there would soon be “blood in the streets” of San Francisco: Median SF house prices have gone up over 20% since then. Boom times can go on much longer than expected, or get second winds. Even when the financial markets enter a period of “irrational exuberance,” that period can go on longer than seems possible, with huge jumps in home and/or stock values.

On the other hand, negative shocks can appear with startling suddenness, triggered by unexpected economic, political or even ecological events that hammer confidence. This leads to other market dominoes falling, the reversal of positive trends in growth, investment and employment, which then balloons into a period of decline, recession, stagnation. These negative adjustments can be of varying scale, in the nature of a crash or bubble popping, the slow deflation of an over-pumped football, or a combination of the two.

Going back thousands or even tens of thousands of years, human beings have tried to predict the future, and whether using priests, oracles, astrologers, pundits, economists, analysts or “experts” of every stripe – and currently having their “authoritative” forecasts headlined every day in the media – we show no aptitude as a species for having the ability to do so with any accuracy. We can’t even remember the mistakes of the recent past – which is one reason why we don’t seem to be able to escape cycles – much less foretell what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Confidence plays an enormous role in financial and real estate markets, and in every period of irrational exuberance, there are many who vociferously argue that the exuberance is NOT irrational. Unfortunately, it can be very challenging to determine the point at which rational confidence shifts into irrational exuberance, but when irrational exuberance abruptly shifts into fear, a stampede for the exits can follow – as an old English saying puts it: “They run all away, and cry, ‘the devil take the hindmost’.” In retrospect, the duration of periods of irrational exuberance, when market gains often accelerate into the stratosphere, seems utterly incomprehensible. Such are the pleasures of hindsight.

All the major recessions in the Bay Area in recent decades have been tied to national or international economic crises, which can take a wide variety of forms. Absent a natural disaster, it is unlikely that a sudden, major, negative, market adjustment (or “crash”) would occur due simply to local issues. However, local issues could certainly lead to less dramatic market adjustments, or exacerbate a downturn caused by a macro-economic event. The SF earthquake of 1989 intensified the national recession that began at that time; our greater exposure to dotcom start-ups did the same with the national dotcom-bubble/Nasdaq crash.

Market Cycles: Simplified Overviews
Up, Down, Flat, Up, Down, Flat…(Repeat)

The chart below graphs ups and downs by percentage changes in home prices at each turning point.

Smoothing out the bumps delivers the simplified overview above for the past 30 years.

Whatever the phase of the cycle, up or down, while it is going on people think it will last forever. Going up, “The world is different now, the rules have changed, and there’s no reason why the up-cycle can’t continue indefinitely.” And then when the market turns and goes down: “Homeownership has always been a terrible investment and the market probably won’t recover for decades” (or even “in our lifetimes” as one Nobel-Prize-winning economist said in 2012). 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 jumped back in (or “explodes” might be a good description) and prices started to rise again. (The dotcom bubble adjustment caused no lasting recession in home values.)

The nature of cycles is to keep turning.

All bubbles are ultimately based on irrational exuberance, runaway greed, criminal behavior or, not uncommonly, all three mashed together. Whether exemplified by junk bonds, stock market hysteria, gorging on untenable levels of debt, a corporate ponzi-scheme mentality, an abandonment of reasonable risk assessment, and/or incomprehensible or dishonest financial engineering, the bubble is relentlessly pumped bigger and tighter. And since human beings appear utterly unable or unwilling to learn the lessons of past cycles, it is kind of like the movie “Groundhog Day,” except that in the movie at least, Bill Murray actually grew wiser over time.

The 2008 crash was truly abnormal in its scale, and much greater than other downturns going back to the Great Depression. The 2005-2007 bubble was fueled by home buying and refinancing with unaffordable amounts of debt on a staggering level, promoted by predatory lending practices, promises of endless appreciation, and an abysmal decline in underwriting standards – and then eagerly facilitated by smug, rapacious, Wall Street flimflammery and self-abasing credit ratings agencies. Millions came to own homes they could never afford to pay for and the rot was distributed throughout the financial system. The market adjustments of the early 1990’s and early-2000’s saw declines in Bay Area home values in the range of 10% to 11%, which were bad enough, but nothing compared to the terrible 2008 – 2011 declines of 20% to 60%.

This is important context when contemplating the next adjustment: It doesn’t have to be a devastating crash. It can be more like some air being let out of an over-pressurized tire instead of a blowout on the highway at high speed. It depends on many different factors.

This Recovery vs. Previous Recoveries

The gold columns above chart the appreciation of past recoveries from the beginning of the recovery to peak value for each cycle (except for the latest cycle, for which the peak has not yet been defined), and the red bars delineate the percentage declines from those peaks, pursuant to the market adjustments that occurred. As always, note that market appreciation and depreciation rates can vary widely by county, community and neighborhood.

Over the past 30+ years, the period between a recovery beginning and a bubble popping (or a lesser adjustment occurring) has run 5 to 7 years. We are currently about 5 years into the current recovery, which started in early 2012 (in San Francisco; later in outlying Bay Area counties). Periods of market recession/doldrums following the popping of a bubble have typically lasted about 3-4 years. (The 2001 dotcom bubble/ 9-11 crisis drop being the exception.) Generally speaking, within about 2-3 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 — are appreciating quickly now, and just beginning to re-attain previous peak values. However, communities with higher priced homes — such as in San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo and Central Contra Costa Counties (Diablo Valley & Lamorinda) — have surged well past their previous peaks.

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. Real estate markets can be affected by a bewildering number of local, national and international economic, political and even natural-event factors that are exceedingly difficult or even impossible to predict with any accuracy.

As long as one doesn’t have to sell during a down cycle, Bay Area homeownership has almost always been a good or even spectacular investment (though admittedly if one does have to sell at the bottom of the market, the results can be very painful). This is due to the ability to finance one’s purchase (and refinance when rates drop), tax benefits, the gradual pay-off of the mortgage (the “forced savings” effect), inflation and long-term appreciation trends. The best way to overcome cycles is to buy a home for the longer term, one whose monthly cost is readily affordable for you, ideally using a long-term, fixed-rate loan.

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 34% below those in January 2000; 250 signifies prices 150% higher.

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 featuring terrible 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 about 100%. Finally, the late eighties “Greed is good!” 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 about 11%, 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.

1996 to Present
(After Recession) Boom, Bubble, Crash, Doldrums, Recovery

This next cycle looks similar but elongated. In 1996, after years of recession, the market suddenly took off and continued to accelerate til 2001. The dotcom bubble pop and September 2001 attacks created a market hiccup (a short-term 10% decline, but only for high-price tier houses, and for condos), but then the subprime and refinance insanity, degraded loan underwriting standards, mortgage securitization, and claims that real estate values never decline, 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 2006-2007, and in September 2008 came the financial markets crash.

Across the country, home values typically fell 20% to 60%, peak to bottom, depending on the area and how badly it was affected by foreclosures — most of San Francisco, with relatively few foreclosures, 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 usually least affected. Then the market stayed flat for about 4 years, albeit with a few short-term fluctuations. Tied to a rapidly recovering economy, supply and demand dynamics began to significantly change in San Francisco in mid-2011, leading to the market recovery of 2012.

The Recovery since 2012 (per Case-Shiller)

This chart above looks specifically at home price appreciation since 2012 when the current market recovery began. Generally speaking, the spring selling seasons have seen the most dramatic surges in appreciation. It’s not unusual for appreciation to slow or flatten in the second half of the year.

Short-Term Changes – last 13 to 14 months

Short-Term Trends by Price Segment (Tier)

In late 2015 and 2016, the greatest pressure of buyer demand started moving to more affordable home segments, as seen in this following chart. In summer 2018, trends started to change, trending down. Then in early 2019, they started to spike up again.

The Panorama: From the late 1980’s to Present
S&P Case-Shiller Index, 5-County SF Metro Area

In the chart below showing percentage year-over-year changes, each January percentage change mostly reflects the market in the previous year, i.e. the January 2002 percentage decline reflects the change in 2001 after the dotcom bubble popped.

Comparing San Francisco vs. United States
Home Price Appreciation Trends since 1987

Really quite similar except for the 1989 earthquake, the dotcom phenomenon, and the recent Bay Area high-tech boom. Of course, the huge difference is in the median house sales prices: The city’s is now over 5 times higher than the national median price.

San Francisco Median Sales Price Appreciation

The charts below look at median sales price movements in San Francisco County itself over the shorter and longer terms. These do not correlate exactly with Case-Shiller – firstly because C-S tracks a “metro area” of 5 Bay Area counties, and secondly, because C-S uses its own proprietary algorithm and not median sales prices. Median sales prices are often affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value (such as significant changes in the distressed, luxury and new-construction market segments; seasonality; buyer profile; and so on).

The Current Recovery: 2012 – Present

In 2011, San Francisco began to show signs of perking up. An improving economy, soaring rents, low interest rates 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, 2013, 2014, and then again in the first half of 2015. In 2016, the SF market clearly cooled compared to the competitive frenzies of previous spring selling seasons, but in 2017 and so far, in early 2018, the market came roaring back again for perhaps its hottest market since 2000. In summer 2018, things cooled down significantly through the end of the year – this coincided with extremely volatile stock markets and sharply rising interest rates. The spring 2019 has been strong, but not as hot as spring 2018. So far, as of April 2019, median prices have not surpassed the highs hit in 2018.

Median Sales Price Changes – Longer-Term: 1993 – Present

Comparing San Francisco, California & National
Median Price Appreciation

Since 2012, San Francisco has been out-performing the overall state and national markets.

San Francisco Rents

Besides, home prices, home rental rates are major indicators of what is occurring with housing costs and the local economy. If anything, rents have appreciated even more extremely than home prices in San Francisco (and other areas of the Bay Area) – and, of course, renters get no advantages from low interest rates, multiple tax deductions and advantages, or home-price appreciation over time. One classic indicator of an overpriced home market is when prices outpace rents. Recent changes to federal income tax laws limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes (such as property taxes) has played a part in changing the balance between the two.

It’s interesting to note that SF rents actually dropped much further after the dotcom bubble burst than after the 2008 financial markets crash, though the latter was a much more destructive economic event. It suggests that local rents may be more affected by the simple ebb and flow of high-tech hiring and employment than by other macro-economic issues, such as stock market changes. If one loses one’s job and the likelihood of finding another in the area plunges, it may be an immediate imperative to move to a less expensive rental area (pressuring rents lower); if one’s net worth plunges with a stock market crash, one may no longer afford to buy a home (pressuring home prices lower). This is an oversimplification, but may still go some ways to explaining the different scale of reaction by purchase and rental markets to different macro-economic events.

After peaking in 2015, the SF rental market definitely cooled in 2016, with supply increasing significantly with new construction, demand softening (as the high-tech boom temporarily cooled), and rents beginning to decline, especially at the high end. SF asking rents dropped around 8 – 10% from their peaks in 2015. In 2018, some signs of recovery showed up.

Consumer Confidence

The monthly fluctuations in consumer confidence reported on in the media are relatively meaningless and without context, but longer-term movements are much more meaningful to overall economic trends. Psychology – confidence, optimism, fear, pessimism – often plays a huge role in financial and real estate markets. And events can sometimes turn consumer confidence one way or another very rapidly, whether such movements are rational or not. Generally speaking, pessimism is bad for the economy, confidence and optimism are good, and over-confidence – sometimes called irrational exuberance – is dangerous. It can be hard to draw the line between where confidence moves into irrational exuberance.

Mortgage Interest Rates since 1981

It’s much harder to decipher any cycles in 30-year mortgage rates. Rates remain very low by any historical measure, but have risen since the 2016 election. Interest rates play a huge role in the ongoing cost of homeownership (affordability) and the real estate market. The substantial decline in interest rates since 2007 has in effect subsidized much of the price increases that have occurred since 2011.

Employment Trends

Real estate market cycles have a symbiotic relationship to other economic cycles, such as illustrated in the employment chart above.

Housing Affordability Index (HAI) Cycles, 1991 – Present
for San Francisco & Bay Area, per CA Association of Realtors

Unsurprisingly, there is a reverse correlation between the trend lines for housing affordability rates and those of real estate price cycles (above). HAI rates jump higher in market recessions, peaking at the bottom of the market, and then decline as the market recovers, bottoming out when peak prices are hit. The lowest Bay Area housing affordability housing index rates (probably in history) were hit in 2007 right before the 2008 market crash (subsidized by buyers taking out loans they could not afford). The Bay Area overall is still above those lows in its current recovery.

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 is important to note that in the past (certainly going back at least 50 years), major corrections to Bay Area home prices did not occur in isolation, but parallel to national economic events (though the 1989 earthquake, which occurred just before the national recession began, certainly exacerbated the local downturn). Ongoing speculation on local bubbles (and predictions of awful upcoming local crashes) 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 charts above, it is 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 cannot 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.

Significant increases in mortgage interest rates – as happened in the second half of 2018 (before then subsiding again in 2019) – affect affordability quickly and dramatically, as interest rates along with, of course, housing prices and household incomes, play the dominant roles in this calculation.

Different Bay Area Market Segments:
Different Bubbles, Crashes & Recoveries

The comparison composite chart dramatically illustrates the radically different market movements of different Bay Area housing price segments since 2000. Farther below are updated individual price charts for each price segment.

Again, all numbers in the Case-Shiller chart relate to a January 2000 value of 100: A reading of 220 signifies a home value 120% above that of January 2000. The chart above illustrate how different market segments in the 5-county SF metro area had bubbles, crashes and now recoveries of enormously different magnitudes, mostly depending on the impact of subprime lending. The lower the price range, the bigger the bubble and crash. In the city itself, where many of our home sales would constitute an ultra-high price segment, if Case-Shiller broke it out, many of our neighborhoods have risen to new peak values. Updated C-S charts for each price segment are below.

Since mid-2016, the low-price tier has begun taking the lead in home price appreciation.

Updated Case-Shiller Price-Tier Charts
Low-Price Tier Homes

Huge subprime bubble (170% appreciation, 2000 – 2006) & huge crash
(60% decline, 2008 – 2011). Strong recovery, now slightly above previous peak.

Mid-Price Tier Homes

Smaller bubble (119% appreciation, 2000 – 2006) and crash (42% decline)
than low-price tier. Strong recovery has put it significantly over its 2006 peak.

It is interesting to note that the low and mid-price house tiers basically shrugged off the dotcom bubble popping in 2001, while the high-price house tier and condos (and apartment rents) saw significant declines. This is another example of how difficult it can be to make big, general pronouncements regarding the entire Bay Area market.

High-Price Tier Homes

84% appreciation, 2000 – 2007, and 25% decline, peak to bottom.
Now far above previous 2007 peak values.

Bay Area Condo Values

Other Compass San Francisco Bay Area real estate reports with market conditions, trends, home prices and appreciation rates: 

June 2019 San Francisco Market Report

High-demand/low-inventory spring market brings median home sales prices bouncing back to 2018 peaks. San Francisco luxury home sales hit new monthly high.

Median Home Sales Prices

We consider 3-month rolling median sales prices to be more reliable than single month figures, which are much more prone to less meaningful fluctuations. Both houses and condos are basically back up to the peak prices they hit last year at this time. June sales will mostly reflect accepted-offer activity in May, so it will be interesting to see that final bit of spring data. Market activity typically begins to significantly slow for the summer, hitting its mid-year low in August.

Median House Sales Prices since 1990 – The Long-Term Perspective

Luxury Home Sales Hit New Monthly High

For the purposes of this chart, we looked at all home sales of $2,500,000 and above: May 2019 sales were approximately 13% higher than the previous peak in May 2018. More data on the spring luxury home market can be found in the table further down in this report: High-price house sales saw the big jump this spring.

Comparing Year-over-Year Spring Markets

Last year’s spring 2018 was a very, very hot market – around the Bay Area – which created a large burst in home-price appreciation. Spring 2019 in SF has also been very strong, with many of the supply and demand statistics only slightly cooler – a few more days on market, a bit less overbidding, etc. – plus an increase in high-end home sales. Median home sales prices are much the same as last year, re-attaining, but so far, not exceeding previous peaks to any significant degree.

Median Price Changes in Selected Districts

Comparing annual median home prices to partial year prices is not really an apples-to-apples comparison because of the effect of market seasonality on sales prices, but the below analysis is still an interesting look at home-price trends.

We chose these districts to illustrate a range of price points in areas with a good number of sales. Some are up, some are down, some have relatively unchanged median sales prices: It fits in with the overall, city price stability mentioned earlier. Full-year 2019 median home prices may be significantly different than the year-to-date figures.

Further down is a link to an updated San Francisco home price map, featuring the last 12 months of sales.

Neighborhood Home Prices – by Bedroom Count

Following are 2 sample tables breaking out median house and condo sales prices over the past year in 3 city districts by bedroom count. Some neighborhoods had relatively few sales of a particular home size.

Below the tables are links to our complete analyses for all 10 Realtor districts with their 70-odd neighborhoods.

Click on the links below for our complete review of San Francisco neighborhood home prices.

SF Neighborhood HOUSE Prices
SF Neighborhood CONDO Prices
SF Neighborhood Home Price Map

Selected Market Indicators

Besides giving more perspective to longer-term trends, these two charts are also excellent illustrations of how seasonality affects supply and demand statistics.

Selected Demographic & Economic Snapshots

Within the Bay Area, SF has by far the highest percentage of residents aged 25 to 34, and by far the highest percentage of single-person households. It also has the lowest percentage of residents under 5 years of age of any major metro area in the country. So, not too many children, but a big population bulge of millennials.

This next chart graphs Bay Area unemployment rates from 1990 through January 2019. By April 2019, they had typically fallen another half percentage point.