The SF Planning Department just released updated Q3 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.
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.
As of September 30th, there were approximately 59,000 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 5 to 6 years). Most are in the Market Street corridor area, the Van Ness corridor just 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 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.
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 about 5000 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 timeframe 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.
A look at San Francisco Bay Area housing affordability trends over time and how they intersect with real estate market corrections:
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’s important to note that in the past, major corrections to Bay Area home prices did not occur in isolation, but parallel to national economic events. Ongoing speculation onlocal “bubbles” 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 chart above, it’s 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 can’t 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.
San Francisco, with a Housing Affordability Index (HAI) reading of 10% is about 2% above its all-time historic low in Q3 2007, but affordability in most other Bay Area counties, while generally declining, still remain significantly above their previous lows. By this measure, the situation we saw in 2007-2008 has not yet been replicated.
Significant increases in mortgage interest rates would affect affordability quickly and dramatically, as interest rates along with, of course, housing prices and household incomes, play the dominant roles in this calculation.
Note that Affordability ratios are just one relatively blunt measuring tool, and there are certainly other factors at play affecting our real estate market: local (high-tech boom; surging population, employment and wealth; inadequate housing supply, rental rates, etc.), national (financial markets, unemployment rates, consumer confidence, etc.) and, nowadays, even international economic factors (such as recent events in the Chinese stock markets and the EU).
Information on the methodology behind the California Association of Realtors’ HAI can be found here: www.car.org/marketdata/data/haimethodology/
Speaking of financial markets, we decided to take a look at how the recent volatility played out in the S&P 500 and the Shanghai stock indices. These indices are constantly fluctuating, but the general picture has not altered significantly since we graphed this in early November:
Interest rates have ticked up a little bit and are now just below 4%.
The Q3 CAR Affordability Index just came out: Q2 to Q3, San Francisco remained the same, at a very low 10% Index reading; Marin ticked up from 17% to 19%; Sonoma went down from 25% to 24%; and Central Contra Costa remained the same, with an Affordability Index reading of 19%.
Not so long ago, grave concern regarding the Chinese stock market decline and its effect on the U.S. economy filled the media and blogs. The words “bubble” and “crash” were used a few million times in regards to the U.S. stock market and the Bay Area real estate market. Wouldn’t it be interesting to revisit the issue to double-check how it all turned out (so far)?
The S&P has made up all the losses it sustained in the late August-September timeframe, and is now about 1.3% down from its peak in May 2015. Please note that the last three points on the first chart below are out of synch with the time scale of the rest of the chart, since they cover a period of 6 months instead of a period of 3 years (as annual data points would).
Many comparisons were made between the Shanghai stock market and the U.S. stock market. This chart below gives a little more context to exactly how similar their movements have been.
San Francisco led the Bay Area and the nation when its real estate recovery began in early 2012. Within the city itself, the more affluent neighborhoods led the rebound from the 2008 – 2011 recession and saw the highest rates of home price appreciation. That dynamic began to shift in 2014, when the more affordable neighborhoods began to take the lead in demand and in appreciation. All price segments in San Francisco have cooled off from the overheated frenzy of the spring 2015 selling season – this cooling is a common seasonal phenomenon – but while lower and mid-priced homes in the city have continued to remain solidly in “seller’s market” territory, in the luxury home segment, the dynamic between buyers and sellers has fundamentally shifted, at least for the time being.
A number of reasons may explain this: Firstly, the affluent are much more invested in the stock market than other groups, and the volatility of late August, early September may have encouraged more wealthy homeowners to sell (before things might possibly get worse), and more wealthy homebuyers to postpone buying until things clarified.As of very early November, the S&P 500 has regained its lost ground from August, so this effect may fade. Secondly, it’s certainly possible that sellers and listing agents have finally pushed the envelope on prices a little too far: San Francisco’s high prices have clearly motivated some buyers to look at options outside the city (which has helped pressurize the markets of other counties). Last but not least, more and more luxury condos are being built in San Francisco: Growing supply not only gives buyers more options and more negotiating room, but it decreases the urgency to write strong offers quickly and the motivation to compete with other buyers.
However, the luxury home market hasn’t “crashed”: there are still high-end homes selling very quickly for very high prices amid competitive bidding.But it has markedly cooled and the number of luxury home listings in San Francisco hit a new high in October, so correct pricing has becomes increasingly vital. It remains to see if this change is just a transitory market blip – such blips are not uncommon in financial or real estate markets – or the beginning of a longer term reality.
Median Sales Price by Month
Even with the general cooling in the market since spring and the significant slowdown in higher end home sales, the overall median sales price for houses and condos bounced back up to $1,200,000 in October. Median prices are impacted by seasonal trends: typically peaking in the spring, dropping in the summer, up again in the autumn and then plunging during the winter holidays. This has more to do with inventory than with changes in fair market value. Short-term fluctuations are not particularly meaningful: It is the longer-term trend that gives a sense of what’s going on in the market.
For houses alone, the median sales price in October was $1,300,000 and for condos, it was $1,100,000.
Supply & Demand Statistics
by Price Segment, October 2015
Months Supply of Inventory (MSI) is a classic measurement of supply and demand, calculating the time it would take to sell the existing inventory of homes for sale at the current rate of market activity. The lower the MSI, the greater the demand as compared to the supply, i.e. the hotter the market. The house market in San Francisco has been stronger than the condo market since the recovery began – though the condo market has been crazy hot as well – because the supply of houses is more limited and is dwindling as a percentage of sales because virtually no new houses are being added to inventory. However, new condos are being built in quantity. This chart above illustrates the dramatic difference in the markets for homes up to the median price ($1.3 million for houses, $1.1 million for condos) and in the next price segment higher, versus the luxury home segment, defined here as houses selling for $2,000,000+ and condos for $1,500,000+. (By this definition, luxury sales currently make up about 20% of San Francisco’s home sales.)
Because SF has been so hot for so long, we’ve adjusted the thresholds for what MSI readings define “seller’s market” and “buyer’s market” to better reflect the psychology of the current market.
Luxury Home Listings for Sale
As mentioned earlier, the number of high-end house and condo listings hit all-time highs in October, while sales numbers are well below levels hit in the previous 2 years. Even more so than the general market, the luxury segment is dramatically affected by seasonality and typically goes into deep hibernation from Thanksgiving to mid-January. Having so many active listings on the market just prior to the winter holiday doldrums is one of the reasons why we designate the luxury-home segment as currently having moved into “buyer’s market” territory.
The Luxury Home Market: Months Supply of Inventory
Year over Year over Year Comparisons
This chart above illustrates the change in the luxury home market supply and demand balance over the past three Octobers. As a further point of context to what has happened in the past year, during the feverish market of this past spring, the MSI for luxury houses hit a low of 1.6 months of inventory and the MSI for luxury condos hit a low of 1.7 months. Since 2012, spring has consistently been the hottest, most competitive, selling season of the year and most home price appreciation has occurred during that time.
4 Neighborhood Snapshots
Much more information regarding SF neighborhood prices and trends can be found here: San Francisco Neighborhood Values
Average Asking Rents in San Francisco
The real estate market has been challenging for homebuyers these past few years, but for anyone looking to rent a home in the city, it has been distinctly more difficult financially. Homebuyers have the benefit of historically low interest rates, multiple tax advantages and, hopefully, substantial appreciation gains over time; renters enjoy none of those advantages (though admittedly there can be long-term benefits to rent control for renters that qualify). Even with the big jump in home prices over the past 4 years, factoring in the 35% – 40% decline in interest rates and adjusting for inflation, the ongoing monthly cost of homeownership (for someone putting 20% down) is roughly the same as it was in 2007. But average monthly asking rents in the city have surged over 50% during the same period.
This has made rental property ownership an increasingly lucrative proposition, which we discuss in more detail in our last Commercial Brokerage report: Bay Area Apartment Building Market
Median Household Incomes
In Selected San Francisco Zip Codes
By Bay Area County
The new S&P Case-Shiller Index for August was just released this week. The prices for homes in the upper third of prices – which dominate in most of San Francisco, central and southern Marin, and central Contra Costa – ticked down a tiny bit in summer, exactly as they did last summer. These short-term fluctuations are common and not particularly meaningful until substantiated by a longer-term trend.
Since Case-Shiller’s SF Metro Area covers 5 counties, it should be noted that not all the markets within the Area move in lockstep: activity and appreciation rates can vary significantly.
As is clearly illustrated below, for the past 4 years, spring has been the big driver of home-price appreciation. Prices generally plateau in subsequent seasons until the next spring arrives. For the past couple years, the spring selling season has started very early, in late January or early February, due to the incredible weather we’ve had in those months. El Niňo, if it arrives, might move the spring pick-up in sales back to mid-March/early April in 2016.
This second chart illustrates the huge burst in prices this past spring. It’s not unusual for the market to slump a little during the summer holidays, almost in exhaustion after the spring frenzy. We’ll have more autumn statistics soon when October’s MLS data comes in, but Paragon has been experiencing its most active autumn selling season in its history in 2015.
And here are 3 longer-term charts for each of the 3 Case-Shiller price tiers for the 5-county San Francisco metro statistical area. As can be seen, the different price tiers had bubbles and crashes of radically different magnitudes in 2006 – 2009, but as far as total appreciation since the year 2000, all of them display very similar appreciation rates.
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The S&P Case-Shiller Index for the San Francisco Metro Area covers the house markets of 5 Bay Area counties, divided into 3 price tiers, each constituting one third of unit sales. Most of San Francisco’s, Marin’s and Central Contra Costa’s house sales are in the “high price tier”, so that is where we focus most of our attention.” The Index is published 2 months after the month in question and reflects a 3-month rolling average, so it will always reflect the market of some months ago. The Index for July 2015 was released on the last Tuesday of September. In 2014, after a torrid spring selling season, the market plateaued during the summer and autumn, and a similar trend seems to be developing in 2015 as well, after its own white hot spring.
The 5 counties in our Case-Shiller Metro Statistical Area are San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa. Needless to say, there are many different real estate markets found in such a broad region, and it’s fair to say that the city of San Francisco’s market has generally out-performed the general metro-area market.
The first two charts illustrate the price recovery of the Bay Area high-price-tier home market over the past year and since 2012 began, when the market recovery really started in earnest. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015, home prices have dramatically surged in the spring (often then plateauing or even ticking down a little in the following seasons). The surges in prices that have occurred in the spring selling seasons reflect frenzied markets of huge buyer demand, historically low interest rates and extremely low inventory. In San Francisco itself, it was further exacerbated by a rapidly expanding population and the high-tech-fueled explosion of new, highly-paid employment and new wealth creation.
For more regarding how seasonality affects real estate: Seasonality & the Real Estate Market
Case-Shiller Index numbers all reflect home prices as compared to the home price of January 2000, which has been designated with a value of 100. Thus, a reading of 218 signifies home prices 118% above the price of January 2000.
Short-Term Trends: 12 Months & Since Market Recovery Began in 2012
Longer-Term Trends & Cycles
The third and fourths charts below reflect what has occurred in the longer term (for the high-price tier that applies best to San Francisco and Marin counties), showing the cycle of recession, recovery, bubble, decline/recession since 1996, and since 1988. Note that, past cycle changes will always look smaller than more recent cycles because the prices are so much higher now; if the chart reflected only percentage changes between points, the difference in the scale of cycles would not look so dramatic.
Different Bubbles, Crashes & Recoveries
This next 3 charts compare the 3 different price tiers since 1988. The low-price-tier’s bubble was much more inflated, fantastically inflated, by the subprime lending fiasco – an absurd 170% appreciation over 6 years – which led to a much greater crash (foreclosure/distressed property crisis) than the other two price tiers. All 3 tiers have been undergoing dramatic recoveries, but because the bubbles of the low and middle tiers were greater, their recoveries leave them below – a little bit for the mid-price-tier and well below for the low-price-tier – their artificially inflated peak values of 2006. It may be a long time before the low-price-tier of houses regains its previous peak values. The high-price-tier, with a much smaller bubble, and little affected by distressed property sales, has now significantly exceeded its previous peak values of 2007. Most neighborhoods in the city of San Francisco itself have now surpassed previous peak values by very substantial margins.
It’s interesting to note that despite the different scales of their bubbles, crashes and recoveries, all three price tiers now basically show the same overall appreciation rate when compared to year 2000. As of July 2015, Case-Shiller puts all 3 price tiers at 118% – 119% over year 2000 prices. This suggests an equilibrium is being achieved across the general real estate market.
Different counties, cities and neighborhoods in the Bay Area are dominated by different price tiers though, generally speaking, you will find all 3 tiers represented in different degrees in each county. Bay Area counties such as Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Sonoma and Solano have large percentages of their markets dominated by low-price tier homes (though, again, all tiers are represented to greater or lesser degrees). San Francisco, Marin, Central Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are generally mid and high-price tier markets, and sometimes very high priced indeed. Generally speaking, the higher the price, the smaller the bubble and crash, and the greater the recovery as compared to previous peak values.
Remember that if a price drops by 50%, then it must go up by 100% to make up the loss: loss percentages and gain percentages are not created equal.
The numbers in the charts refer to January Case-Shiller Index readings, except for the last as labeled..
Low-Price Tier Homes: Under $579,500 as of 7/15
Huge subprime bubble (170% appreciation, 2000 – 2006) & huge crash (60% decline, 2008 – 2011). Strong recovery but still well below 2006-07 peak values.
Mid-Price Tier Homes: $579,500 to $949,000 as of 7/15
Smaller bubble (119% appreciation, 2000 – 2006) and crash (42% decline) than low-price tier. As of July 2015, a strong recovery has put it back up to its previous 2006 peak.
High-Price Tier Homes: Over $949,000 as of 7/15
84% appreciation, 2000 – 2007, and 25% decline, peak to bottom.
Now climbing well above previous 2007 peak values.
In San Francisco, where many neighborhoods vastly exceed the initial price threshold for the high-price tier, declines from peak values in 2007 in those more expensive neighborhoods typically ran 15% – 20%, and appreciation over previous peak value has also exceeded the high-price tier norm.
San Francisco, Marin and Central Contra Costa
And then looking just at the city of San Francisco itself, which has, generally speaking, among the highest home prices in the 5-county metro area (and the country): many of its neighborhoods are now blowing past previous peak values. Note that this chart has more recent price appreciation data than available in the Case-Shiller Indices. This chart shows both house and condo values, while the C-S charts used above are for house sales only. Median prices are affected by other factors besides changes in values, including seasonality, new construction projects hitting the market, inventory available to purchase, and significant changes in the distressed and luxury home segments.
Central Contra Costa County
And this chart for the Noe and Eureka Valleys neighborhoods of San Francisco shows the explosive recovery seen in many of the city’s neighborhoods, pushing home values far above those of 2007. Noe and Eureka Valleys have become particularly prized by the high-tech buyer segment and the effect on prices has been astonishing.
All data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and is subject to revision. Statistics are generalities and how they apply to any specific property is unknown. Short-term fluctuations are less meaningful than longer term trends. All numbers should be considered approximate.
© 2015 Paragon Real Estate Group
The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, now in its 34th year, is the oldest and most prestigious art and antiques fair on the West Coast. Held at Fort Mason each fall, the FAS presents 60 of the finest art and antiques dealers from around the world and is fully vetted by the vetting committee, organized in cooperation with the Antiques Dealers Association of California (ADAC). It is a must-see destination show for collectors and enthusiasts of art, antiques and design.
Objects exhibited and sold on the show floor span the ages, from antiquity through the 20th Century, covering genres including Fine Art, Modern Art, Furniture, Textiles, Photography, Asian Art, Carpets, Ceramics, Porcelain, Sculpture, Rare Books, Works on Paper, Objets d’art, Jewelry and Metals.
The 4-day show offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of great art and antiques with programming each day, including The Lecture Series, featuring 6 prominent speakers over 3 days, show tours, talks, designer events and the Young Collectors Evening.
The Fall Antiques Show opening night Preview Gala has been called “the highlight of the San Francisco Social Season” and opens the show with live music, caviar and vodka bars, flowing champagne, sumptuous buffets and the first glimpse of the best art and antiques from around the world, all available for purchase.