Archive for March 2016 | Monthly archive page

US and San Francisco Economic Trends

A selection of charts looking a various angles of current economic trends in the United States and San Francisco. For the past 50 years, the San Francisco and Bay Area housing markets have only “crashed” in tandem with a large, national, negative macro-economic event. Which is why it’s useful to look at important U.S. trends on issues such as employment, household debt, and stock market price to earnings ratios, as well as those trends that are more local.

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Daylight Savings Tips! (an infographic)

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Source : Parascopesf.com

San Francisco Real Estate Market Report (including 13 custom charts)

Monthly and seasonal fluctuations in median sales prices are quite normal and do not necessarily say much about changes in fair market values. For that one must look at longer-term trends. However, for what it is worth, the median price in February was the highest since it peaked in May of 2015. If this spring is like the past 4 springs in which a very-high-demand/ very-low-supply dynamic prevailed, then sustained home-price appreciation may start showing up in the statistics during the next few months.

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Chart: Median Price Trends since 1993

Chart: Case-Shiller Metro Area Home Price Index

We say this very preliminarily since the 2016 market has just gotten started after the holiday doldrums, but it appears that San Francisco homebuyers are generally shrugging off the recent volatility in the stock market. That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a repeat of the overheated markets of the past few years. Much more will be known once the spring selling season really gets into full swing.

San Francisco Construction Boom Continues

Q4-2015_Pipeline_Under-Construction-Permitted-SubmittedDevelopers continue to add projects with thousands of new units to the San Francisco new-housing pipeline. If they are built as currently planned (as of Q4 2015), the city should add over 60,000 new housing units (market-rate condos and apartments, and affordable and social-project housing) over the next 5 to 6 years, with another 25,000 in 3 huge projects that may take decades to complete. However, new developments are being constantly added to the pipeline, and existing plans are regularly altered. They may even be abandoned if economic or political conditions dramatically change.

So far, increased supply due to completed new construction has not created significant downward pressure on prices. This may change as construction completion accelerates in coming years, however almost all of the market-rate development is directed toward the more (or most) expensive end of the condo and apartment market. House sales will continue to become a smaller and smaller percentage of the SF market, which may play a role in enhancing their values.

Our full article: San Francisco Housing Pipeline

Where to Buy a Home in San Francisco for the Money You Want to Spend

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The charts above are 3 of 8 in our updated report: San Francisco Neighborhood Affordability

Seasonality & the Spring Market

Overbidding by Month

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Luxury Home Listings Accepting Offers by Month

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The San Francisco real estate market is deeply affected by seasonality, which shows up in the rise and fall of inventory, buyer demand, overbidding and median prices. For the past 4 years, spring has experienced the most feverish buyer competition for new listings, which led to the highest overbidding percentages, as seen in the first chart above. (111% signifies an average sales price 11% over the asking price.) In February 2016, the percentage over list price started climbing again after the usual slowdown of the winter holidays.

The luxury home segment is even more dramatically affected by seasonality than the general market. As seen in the second chart above tracking accepted offers, expensive home sales typically soar to their high point in spring, drop during the summer holidays, rebound for the relatively short autumn season, and then plunge deeply in mid-winter. This ebb and flow of high-end sales is one of the factors behind short-term, seasonal ups and downs in median sales price. So far in 2016, luxury home closings have been comparable to early 2015, but we are just entering the main selling season now.

Our full overview: Seasonality & the SF Real Estate Market

Mortgage Interest Rate Trends

Short-Term Changes since the Fed Raised Rates

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Chart: Long-Term Interest Rate Trends

Since the Federal Reserve Bank raised the benchmark interest rate in mid-December, interest rates have actually dropped by about 8% (as of March 3), which makes a significant difference in monthly mortgage costs and loan underwriting qualification. This downward pressure on rates is generally ascribed to the dramatic volatility in the stock market since the year began. (Investors often pour money into bonds in times of stock market volatility, which then lowers the interest rate.) It is famously difficult to predict interest rate movements, which can be sudden and dramatic, but for the time being, they are getting closer to the all-time low in 2013. That is good news for the real estate market, while it lasts.

Bay Area Housing Affordability by County

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Chart: Long-Term Trends in Housing Affordability

Housing affordability is one of the biggest political issues in the city and the Bay Area. The California Association of Realtors recently released its Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for the 4th quarter of 2015, and above are 3 of 10 charts in our updated analysis. San Francisco is now 3 percentage points above its all-time low of 8%, last reached in Q3 2007, however there has not yet occurred the convergence in extreme low affordability across Bay Area counties seen in 2007. Interest rates play a big role in affordability calculations and, as noted earlier, they have been falling in 2016.

Our full report: Bay Area Housing Affordability

San Francisco & U.S. Rents

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Chart: Long-Term SF Rent Trends

Despite ticking down a tiny bit at the end of 2015, San Francisco rents remain the highest in the nation. Since rents are not ameliorated by low interest rates and the numerous tax advantages pertaining to homeownership, new renters in the city bear the worst brunt of the housing affordability crisis, even more so than new homebuyers. A number of large, new rental apartment buildings have recently been coming on the market and many more are planned. This new inventory may eventually help provide significant rental-rate relief, however almost all the market-rate projects being built feature luxury apartments priced at the very high end: New studio units can rent for $3500 per month and more.

New Housing Construction in San Francisco

The SF Planning Department just released updated information regarding the new-housing development pipeline. San Francisco is in the midst of one of its biggest new-housing construction booms in history. (The same is occurring on the commercial development side, but this report won’t deal with that.) Indeed, it often seems that new projects of one kind or another are being announced on an almost daily basis, and a detailed map delineating all projects in some stage of the pipeline makes many city districts appear to have measles.

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New housing construction has lagged population pressures for decades – pressures which have soared during the current economic and employment boom – and now there is a scramble to address the inadequacy of housing supply, and, for developers/investors, to reap the rewards of a high demand/low supply dynamic in one of the most affluent and expensive housing markets in the world. Of course, one of the questions now is at what point might new inventory succeed in fully meeting market-rate buyer and renter demand, and possibly proceed to an over-saturation point, thus significantly changing the supply and demand dynamic. Such a change, if it arrives, would certainly affect rent and price appreciation rates.

As of December 30th, there were approximately 62,000 housing units of all kinds – luxury condos, rental apartments, market rate and affordable units, and social project housing – in the relatively near-term pipeline (next 1 to 6 years). Most are in the Market Street corridor area, the Van Ness corridor above Market Street, and in the districts to the southeast of Market Street (see map). If we add the mega-projects planned for Candlestick-Hunter’s Point, Treasure Island and Park Merced, which may take decades to become a reality, the number jumps to well over 80,000. As a point of context, there are approximately 382,000 residential units in San Francisco currently. About 3500 new units were added in 2014. (We are awaiting the city’s 2015 Housing Inventory Report for the 2015 figure, but it will probably be of similar scale.)

Housing supply and affordability issues, strong feelings about neighborhood gentrification and tenants’ rights, and even simple NIMBYism (or in SF, NBMVism, “not blocking my view!”) make development the most contentious political topic in San Francisco. Furious battles are ongoing in the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor’s office and the Planning Department; with neighborhood associations and special interest groups; and at the ballot box. Development is not for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket: One cannot contemplate building virtually anything in the city without vehement opposition and sometimes a well-funded coalition in opposition. For developers, the equation to be penciled out includes high costs, enormous hassle-factor and extended project timelines on one side, and the potential for large financial returns on the other. In new San Francisco developments, condos often sell for $1250 per square foot and above, and 500 square foot studio apartments can rent for up to $3500 per month.

Of the units in the greater pipeline of 80,000 units, over 9000 units are designated as “affordable housing” – but many of those are in the long-term Candlestick-Hunter’s Point and Treasure Island projects. Because of the nature of the political environment, much to do with how much affordable housing will be built is in flux. Many developers are in intense negotiations with government agencies and neighborhood associations to find a workable compromise between return on investment on one hand, and unit mix and affordable housing requirements on the other. Said requirements may consist of a percentage of units in the project, building affordable units elsewhere in the city, or contributing substantial amounts to the city’s affordable housing fund in lieu of building.

New housing construction is very sensitive to major economic, political and even environmental events (i.e. natural disasters), so simply because something is in the pipeline doesn’t mean it will be completed as planned within the time frame contemplated. First of all, plans are constantly being changed just in the normal course of things. And if a big financial or real estate market correction (or crash) occurs, as happened in late 2008, projects in process can come to a grinding halt, and new projects substantially altered, delayed or abandoned. Because the timeline in San Francisco can run 3 to 6+ years from initial filing with Planning to construction completion, developers and their lenders make enormous financial bets on what the future will look like. Timing is everything in real estate development, and can make the difference between large profits and bankruptcy. When the music stops – which it always does sooner or later, though the time range of opportunity can vary greatly – not everyone will find a chair to sit down in. That especially applies to those who over-leveraged their projects.

As a side note, big Chinese developers have been investing in both large residential and commercial real estate development projects in the Bay Area, and, according to reports, continue to aggressively seek additional opportunities. Though significant – constituting billions of dollars in investment – these projects do not constitute the greater part of Bay Area development.

SF Planning Department Pipeline Report

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1245 Broadway Street #6

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