Silicon Valley

Gloom to Bloom in 12 Days

This Mountain View listing located in the heart Silicon Valley brought together a lot of the expertise I’ve gained over the years, so we documented the entire process to show how I took the home from “gloom to bloom.”

Thinking About Becoming a Real Estate Agent? Read This First...

A great post from Greg Nino, Houston real estate agent, titled, "An Open Letter to Anyone Wanting to Get Their Real Estate License". Don't get me wrong, I love my job. But like any industry, it has it's challenges. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "I like people and love looking a homes. I would like to be a real estate agent." Nino's well-written 42-point letter below plus my commentary:

Silicon Valley Housing Market Trends – Third Quarter 2010 Update

For the 2010 third quarter housing market report we are going to look at quarterly graphs back to 2006, which should help us better understand where we are today in the Silicon Valley. After the crash in 2007, the best thing we can do is look how are we doing compared to the year before. Putting a long view on it spins it for the worst: Bay Area sales: a region on a tight rope; Bay Area September Home Sales Second-Lowest in 19 years. Our four comparison cities -- Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Los Altos -- have performed well in the last year. Here are some highlights that compare this quarter from the same period in 2009:

- Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto have improved their median sales price - Average days on market dropped 30% or more in all four cities - Palo Alto bumped above 100% in the sales price to listing price ratio for the first time since 2008 - Number of closed sales are up in Palo Alto and Los Altos, and down in Mountain View and Sunnyvale; Concurrently, the same is true for total sales volume.

So read on to get more information about the number of homes sold, median sales price, average days on market, and selling price to listing price ratio. All of our data comes from MLS listings inc. measuring single-family homes.

closed sales - 2010 Q3
closed sales - 2010 Q3

The homes sold graph clearly shows the natural market cycle that dips in the fall and peaks in the spring and summer. What we are looking for in the following graphs is how each individual city performed before the housing bubble crash (pre-2007), during, and in the recovery period (after 2009).

All cities began to slide in 2007 and dropped to their lowest levels at the end of 2008. This also meant more homes on the market and an increased inventory, including foreclosed and short-sale properties.

If we compare the first quarter of 2009 to the first in 2010, all four cities jumped in number of homes sold: Los Altos (+133%), Mountain View (+130%), Palo Alto (+44%), and Sunnyvale (+13%).

median - 2010 Q3
median - 2010 Q3

In median sales price we can see the obvious spike in home prices that occurred because of the housing bubble. Mountain View peaked mid-2008, about a year before the other three cities did. Mountain View also suffered less of a downturn when the bubble popped. You can see the other three cities sliding at the end of 2008, while Mountain View prices increased.

Today, we notice that levels have smoothed out since 2009 and have worked their way towards 2006 levels, experiencing a small drop, with Los Altos the exception, this quarter.

Another thing to consider in the steep drop of home prices at the beginning of 2009 was in part of expensive homes coming off the market, such as in Los Altos, and low-valued foreclosures and short-sales coming onto the market, bring down the overall median sales price. Like mentioned earlier, Sunnyvale (+3.6%), Mountain View (+3.4%), and Palo Alto (+6.7%) increased their median sales price compared to last year, but realized a deprecation from last quarter; the reverse is true for Los Altos.

average days on market - 2010 Q3
average days on market - 2010 Q3

Average days on market is a good indicator of market health -- closer to 30 days means properties are coming onto the market at a good price and buyers are interested; above 60 days means properties are priced poorly or buyers are nervous about the market, or both.

Los Altos peaked in early 2007, quickly dropped, and followed the similar trend of the three other cities, but taking, until 2010, the longest to recover.

Sunnyvale is interesting because it has the largest population and is the city with the lowest median sales price. It is more likely that Sunnyvale had more distressed properties that pushed up its average days on market higher than the other cities from 2007 to 2009. But Sunnyvale also dropped the soonest once buyers became confident in the market again just after 2009.

Palo Alto, considered one of the strongest housing markets in the state, had the lowest days on market this quarter of our comparison cities. In the next graph we can see that it is also the only market that has turned into a seller’s market.

sales to listing ratio - 2010 Q3
sales to listing ratio - 2010 Q3

In the sales price to listing price graph we explore what makes a buyer’s market (below 100%) and what makes a seller’s market (above 100%).

As the housing bubble grew, buyers were willing to pay above listing prices to get the home they wanted. From our previous median sales price graph, home prices peaked in the third quarter of 2008, but then quickly fell in 2009 -- Los Altos being a major example of peaking in median sales price then falling the most in both the median sales price and the listing price to sales price ratio. Buyers weren’t taking anything for a period and sellers weren’t ready to adjust their home prices.

It has taken until 2010 and later for the market to really stabilize here in the valley. The ratios for Mountain View and Sunnyvale are hovering around 100%; Los Altos is still struggling at 97%, while Palo Alto has turned to a seller’s market at 101.26%.

Closing It’s always easy to look back and be able to see that the housing market was peaking, but at the time it is very difficult for an individual to judge if the market would sustain its levels or pop like it did. What we are realizing today is a much more conservative market that is looking for a sustained growth rather than the feeding frenzy that happened. One advantage of being in the Silicon Valley is that although we took a hit, we returned to levels that existed only four years ago and are seeing signs of stabilization or even growth (Palo Alto really standing out). We’ll be able to tell in the next couple quarters if that holds true (the upcoming winter quarter is slower for real estate), and we’ll try to do a larger comparison that shows the Silicon Valley compared to other parts of the nation, and lastly, how neighborhoods within cities are doing.

Where Are We Now? 2000 to 2010 Silicon Valley Real Estate Report

Real estate levels in 2010 appear to be either dropping or freezing nationwide during the usually active spring and summer months due to the wake of the 2007 housing crisis. But in Silicon Valley, where the characteristically warmer temperature seems to not only apply to the weather, the local real estate is making its way back from the extremes of a couple years ago. So from 2000 to the second quarter of 2010, where is the Silicon Valley housing market now? Pretty much where we started. Number of closed sales for single-family homes in Santa Clara County during the second quarter of 2010 are down 4% from the same period in 2000; and the average sales price is up 3%.

This post is an update of an earlier market analysis that we did in 2007. And in the graphs below we’ll be able to see the dot-com bubble burst, the effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the housing bubble develop and pop, and the current signs of a housing recovery. The data is collected from 2000 to the second quarter of 2010 from all 15 cities of Santa Clara County off of MLS listings Inc., looking at single-family homes and condominiums/townhouses._

Number of closed sales in Silicon Valley

Santa Clara County, number of closed sales

The sales spikes we see every year are part of a natural market cycle that peaks in the spring and dips in the winter. Competition is greatest in the spring when the most inventory is available and the most prospective buyers are out looking.

Sales numbers were negatively affected by the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 but shot back up once the housing bubble formed. What’s closest to buyers and sellers minds alike is the housing crisis that bottomed out in 2008. Silicon Valley’s strong economy (that some reports say is losing its edge) has meant a swifter recovery than the rest of the nation.

If the economy continues its recovery, the housing market could return to a seller's market. But sales numbers are only one facet, where other areas of the market are still depressed.

Average days on market in Silicon Valley

Santa Clara County, average days on market

Average days on market (DOM) is less influenced quarter by quarter from natural market cycles compared to number of sales. Homes were being sold at record pace in 2000 and between 2004 to 2006. The two recessions in the last 10 years pushed DOM to above two months, even up to three. Though desirable homes in good neighborhoods will always sell quickly, the housing bubble inflated everything, which resulted in a flood of overpriced homes during the crisis and pushed DOM upward.

Since low DOM numbers are attractive to buyers, they are sometimes falsified to make a house appear more attractive on the market. Or poor sales strategies can make an otherwise good home sit on the market for an extended period of time. So don’t let DOM be the final judgement when deciding on a house. But overall a low DOM is a good indicator of market health.

Average sales price in Silicon Valley

Santa Clara County, average sales price

Here we can see how big the housing bubble really was. With the dot-com bubble, money was focused in the stock market. But when that crashed, homes became “hot,” lending requirements loosened, and real estate became the new investment trend.

The recession in 2001 dropped the average price for single-family homes 19% from its peak ($750,039) in the second quarter of 2000 to the low ($605,286) in the fourth quarter of 2001; compared to the 48% drop from the housing market bubble peak ($1,083,930) in the second quarter of 2007 to the low ($568,542) in the first quarter of 2009.

Currently, home prices in Santa Clara County are on the rebound and trending towards 2000 and 2004 numbers. Strong markets in smaller cities like Palo Alto and Los Altos faired much differently than the large city of San Jose because of a difference in demand and foreclosure rates.

Sale-to-list price ratio in Silicon Valley

Santa Clara County, sales-to-list price ratio

The ratio compares buyer and seller perceptions, where above 100% is a seller's market and below 100% is the opposite. The bubbles and crashes are clearly seen here but reflected in a much different way than what is seen in the average sales price graph. The boom in the early 2000s shows that buyers where much more willing to pay over listing price until the 2001 recession. The ratio later peaked again in 2005. Sellers priced their homes much higher during the real estate bubble but the ratio stayed near 100%, meaning buyers believed the inflated prices were worth the investment.

In recession periods buyers are hesitant and sellers have to adjust their listing price. Today, the average listing price is increasing again with the ratio near 100%.

Takeaway:

The graphs above give a bird’s-eye view of the real estate market in Santa Clara County beginning to settle. Although it may be a very different perspective from an individual home buyer or seller, who could have gotten caught in either the bubble or the crash. The view can also be very different city to city, reflecting hyper-local markets, as we have seen in our second quarter 2010 analyses of Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale. The main idea of these graphs is to show that real estate markets, while unpredictable, are cyclical.

Silicon Valley Housing Market Trends - Second Quarter 2010 Update

In the second quarter of this year (April to June) we can really see which areas of the housing market have bounced back from the crisis and which areas are still struggling. To visualize those details, and to complement our second quarter 2010 analyses of Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale, we have created some city comparison graphs. We’ll cover total sales volume, sale price to listing price ratio, days on market, median selling price, and number of homes sold, using data on single-family homes off of MLS listings Inc.

First, let’s have a look at: 

Total sales volume clearly shows that over the past two-plus years the housing market dropped after peaking in 2008, then slowly bounded up and down, successively higher each quarter. The second quarter of this year really reflects a trend towards returned growth in the housing market of our local cities.

One additional interest to point out is that although most of the cities have not yet reached 2008 sales volumes, Mountain View has surpassed it.

ratio_2nd-quarter.jpg

The sales price to list price ratio is one way to show buyer and seller perceptions: above 100% is a seller’s market, and buyers are paying above the listing price to win a house; below 100% is a buyer’s market, and sellers are having to reduce their listing price in order to sell a house. The closer a city is to 100% the more the market is balanced.

On a house that is listed for $1 million, a 1% change would amount to $10,000.

In both quarters this year, Mountain View and Sunnyvale have both been above 100%, a result of high demand for entry-level homes. Palo Alto and Los Altos, the more desirable and expensive of the cities, are still under 100% (Los Altos is at 98.21%, recovering from a glaring low of 93.56% in the beginning of 2009).

dom_2nd-quarter.jpg

_

The Average days on market is a good indicator of buyer demand and the overall health of the housing market. From the graph, we can see all four cities returning nearly to 2008 levels this quarter, with Palo Alto and Los Altos realizing the greatest second quarter drops. This is another signal that the market is shifting to a seller’s market, making it more difficult, once again, for buyers to get find a good deal.

median_2nd-quarter.jpg

The median selling price can be used in conjunction to the earlier ratio graph. Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale, which are all near or above a 100% ratio, have median prices that are rising. Los Altos, however, is still far from a 100% ratio and its median sales price remains stagnate.

Currently all four cities are off second quarter results in 2008 by more than 5% -- Los Altos is even more at nearly 13% under -- so buyers can still expect to save money due to depreciated home values.

sold_2nd-quarter.jpg

The number of homes sold for each city has either nearly returned to 2008 levels, or surpassed it in the case of Mountain View, which is 50% higher this quarter than the same period in 2008. Part of the reasoning is traditionally more homes go on sale and are bought during the summer months. But this also a result of more sellers willing to sell their homes in a stronger market and a release of pent-up buyer demand.

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Is it Time to Refinance Your Mortgage?

rates-jan05-july10.jpg

Home ownership can be for many their biggest financial asset, and as a result, biggest financial concern. But with current mortgages dropping to their lowest point since the 1950s, many Silicon Valley homeowners are saving thousands a year just by refinancing. Is the time right for you? Let’s go through some considerations that cover the why, how, and hurdles of refinancing.

Why refinance?

The most common and obvious reason is that homeowners refinance to lower their mortgage rate. A lower rate means lower monthly payments and less money towards interest over the life of the loan.

For example, a 30-year fixed-rate loan of $400,000 at 6% would have a monthly payment of $2,398. But if you were to qualify for 5.5% on the same loan amount, your monthly payment would be $2,271, or a savings of $127 a month and $1,524 saved in a year.

Or you may want to adjust the term of a loan. Decreasing the time period of a loan results in a lower rate and paying off your loan sooner, for a slightly higher monthly cost compared to a 30-year loan. Increasing the length of a loan is a cash-flow option, freeing up cash now, but paying more over time.

You can also switch between an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) and a fixed-rate mortgage. The riskier ARMs float with current interest rates, so your payments increase or decrease accordingly. Commonly, homebuyers are moving to a safer fixed-rate mortgage.

Cash-out is the last option, where you refinance a mortgage for more than you owe and receive equity in cash, which can help pay for large debts now.

Options outside of refinancing are home equity loans and lines of credit, and reverse mortgages.

Common hurdles when refinancing

Before you think a refinance is the easiest route to saving your financial back, strict requirements and sometimes extra costs don’t make the trip worth it.

Similar to the first time you applied for a mortgage, lenders are looking at three qualifications: income, credit score, and property value. If any one of these has suffered, lenders will likely charge additional fees or raise your rate.

Another issue can be if your current mortgage has a prepayment penalty, which reduces the benefit of refinancing, again, because of additional costs.

So talking to a loan officer is the first step to see where you fall financially and what you qualify for in terms of refinancing your mortgage.

Break-even calculation

How long it takes to recoup the cost of refinancing realized with a lower rate, the break-even point, is useful for determining if it is worth refinancing when considering how long you plan to stay in your home.

Typical fees that add to the cost of refinancing are loan origination fee, points paid to lower your interest rate, appraisal fee, inspection fee, closing fee, title search and title insurance, and other miscellaneous lender fees. Total fees can easily get into the thousands.

Lenders sometimes offer “no-cost” refinancing. Though you may not have to pay the above fees at closing, you will have to either accept a higher interest rate or the fees will be rolled into the term of the loan.

If you leave your home before recouping the closing costs there is little point in refinancing.

Let’s use our previous example, and say a refinance will save you $127 a month but closing costs were $4,500. To break-even, you would have to keep the loan for about three years; if you were to keep the house for 10 years you would save $10,720, including the cost of closing.

There are numerous refinancing calculators on the Web, like at bankrate.com, where you can plug in your own finances and get a quick estimate.

Comparing interest rates

As we saw with the initial graph, rates have been dropping over the years. But interest rates and fees change daily from lender to lender.

In addition to the most surefire ways -- good credit, income, and equity -- to an excellent rate you can also pay points. A point is equal to 1% of the total loan amount and the more points you pay the lower the rate.

To give you an idea of the current rates for a 30-year mortgage, here are some from a Bay Area lender as of July 2010:

No point, conforming loan (under $417,00) = 4.5% No point, “no-cost” conforming loan (under $417,00) = 4.75% High-balance loan (under $729,250) = .125% - .25% higher than a conforming Jumbo loan (anything higher than $729,250) = low-to-mid 5s

Shopping for a new mortgage

Shopping around and comparing loan offers by different lenders is the best way to save money. First, talk to your current lender, as they could save you time and wave fees since you are a returning customer.

Feel free to contact us if you are looking for recommendations on Bay Area lenders or mortgage brokers; also, if you would like to find out more about our real estate services. _

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