Since the crash, the Silicon Valley has recovered faster than the nation on average. Narrowing the range to our four comparison cities - Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale - we have an above average group even against Santa Clara County (see graph below). Experts at DataQuick, an independent real estate analysis company, report that the median sales price and home sales have fallen in the Bay Area from a year ago. The same is true in our example cities. But in a post-crash economy the most important factor real estate professionals, buyers, and sellers are looking for is a stable market.
Prices in our four cities have remained stable, yet deprecated, for the past two years. What will really excite the housing market is a return of high-cost homes and increased buyer confidence found in areas such as gains in employment and relaxed credit standards from banks. While some have seen this as an opportunity to find a house for less, most of the market is collectively holding its breath.
So with anticipation of what 2011 brings, lets review how 2010 was for our four real estate cities.
We've also talked about the median selling price over the years here and here, and we're getting further away from the dump in housing prices that occurred late 2008. Like we mentioned in the opening, what people are looking for is stabilization, but also, at what price will that occur.
This quarter, Palo Alto nearly dropped to its lowest price since the bust, unusual for a strong market, but is expected when top-tier homes are not being put up for sale until the market improves. There is obvious demand in this city as it has the lowest average days on market of our comparison cities (see third graph). Currently, Palo Alto is around 2005-2006 levels, which is about 4% lower than the fourth quarter in 2006 compared to the same quarter in 2010.
But where Palo Alto struggled in the past two quarters, Los Altos has risen two straight quarters. Although the news is tempered by its current fourth quarter median sales price, which is about equivalent to its first quarter in 2006.
At a price point $500,000 or so lower are Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Continuing to be the most stable city of the group, Mountain View has reliably hovered at a median price of $900,000 for single-family homes -- equal to the first half of 2006.
Sunnyvale reflects the current movement of Santa Clara County, and moved back to levels found near the end of 2004.
The sales price to listing price ratio gauges buyer and seller expectations. (Consider that a 1% difference here on a million dollar home is equal to $10,000.) The first thing that jumps out is Palo Alto is the only city in our comparison where homes are selling higher than their listing price, a ratio above 100%.
With Palo Alto and Los Altos trends reversed from our last graph, Los Altos increased its median price but the majority of the home sales in the city have made pricing adjustments to fit the mood of the conservative buyer. Mountain View, which also saw a bump in the median price, faced a dramatic drop of about two percent to 98%, down from 100%. This could be a correlation with more aggressive sellers entering these markets, but they are not getting the bites they saw in 2008.
Sunnyvale remained similar to the previous quarter, nearing a balanced market between buyer and seller.
Interestingly, Santa Clara County has not realized a ratio above 100% for some time, unlike our four comparison cities. Going back to our 2000 to 2010 report, the county broke 100% in the beginning of 2004, peaked above 104% for single-family homes in spring 2005 and fell under again mid-2006. As a comparison, the average ratio for our four cities remained above 100% from 2004 until late 2008.
Average days on market is another good indicator of market health. So much so that sometimes buyers and sellers put unreasonable weight into days on market of a house listing. But in markets where emotions can play a large role in a purchase, it is not unexpected and something to be dealt with.
This graph mostly looks like a mess of weaving colored lines, with no consideration to housing prices. Signs of a bubble popping through a climbing average days on market were felt in Santa Clara County as a whole late 2005, whereas most of our four comparison cities kept an average days on market below 40 until 2009. The days on market of the county and our cities are more closely aligned now that the market has cooled, as we can see they are following a similar trend since late 2009.
In the number of closed sales graph we were able to put our four comparison cities on the left vertical axis and also include Santa Clara County homes sales using the right vertical axis. While county sales are not comparable in number to city sales, displaying both can help compare overall trends to the individual cities.
Traditionally, home sales dip during winter and peak during spring and summer. But looking at 2010, Palo Alto pushed up, Los Altos dipped, Mountain went up, and Sunnyvale followed the winter plunge. Buyers are out there combing for good deals, especially in valued markets such as Palo Alto. Though previous years have shown that the biggest dip happens during the first quarter of year, so we'll have to wait and see if these cities continue to break the trend.
One positive emerging trend occurring for all our four comparison cities and county alike, is a steady increase of sales, most clearly seen when you compare first quarters.