South Bay Median Home Price Plummets

With four months left in a very chaotic real estate year, we want to take this opportunity to lay some ground work for understanding why the market has headed into a recession. And, to keep things on a positive note, we end with a couple of suggestions on how you might profit from this turn of events.

Some of the nation’s most respected analysts (including Ivy Zelman of Zelman & Associates and Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics) are predicting recessionary price drops ranging from 10-20% and lasting through the next two years. (Arguing that we’re only looking at a brief correction, pundits at Goldman Sachs and the Mortgage Bankers Association continue to predict single digit growth.) Meanwhile, here on the street, we’re watching prices drop across the board for the second month in a row.

In August we reported that median home prices across the Los Angeles South Bay fell from July, the prior month. Now looking at August sales we find all four areas of the South Bay showed declining median prices again. The month-over-month price drops ranged from 6% at the Beach to 25% in the Inland cities. (See bottom for description of areas.)

Underlining the month-to-month price slippage, three of the four areas also showed declining prices versus the same month last year. Only in the Harbor area are homes still selling for more than they did in 2021. Even there, median price has slid from 9% down to 4% above August of 2021.

2022 Compared to “Normal” Business in 2019

The past two years have seen real estate stumble with the Covid lockdowns in 2020, then skyrocket with the low interest rates in 2021. It’s worth a look back to 2019 to see how the current conditions compare to the most recent “normal” market.

Looking at sales volume in the period January through August of 2019, 1064 homes had sold in the Beach cities. So far this year only 905 homes have sold. That is a 15% drop in sales since the last normal year of business. The trend line for the Beach area has been sliding downward since April.

For the first eight months of 2019 the Harbor area showed sales of 2955 compared to 2945 for this year. That is a drop of .3% – a statistically insignificant change. However, the trend line has been dropping since March. August sales were up slightly from July, which was an unusually slow month for the Harbor area. We expect sales to continue a downward trajectory into 2023.

Palos Verdes home sales for the same period in 2019 totaled 537 versus 568 in 2022. The Hill is the only part of the South Bay where year to date 2022 sales exceed those of 2019. At 6% it’s a healthy increase, too. Despite being the best performing area in South Bay, Palos Verdes sales volume peaked in March and continues to slide. Sales in July were unusually weak, so August shows an upward step in the trend line.

Sales in the Inland area, very much like the Harbor area are down only .4% from 2019 sales for the same period. The difference is statistically insignificant, and the trend line is headed downward.

Declining sales volume creates a larger inventory of homes to sell. As the inventory grows, sellers have more competition and buyers become more demanding and prices start declining. We anticipate continuing growth of available inventory, followed in late fall or early winter by a spate a price drops.

Median Price Up 54% Since 2019

Palos Verdes homes have seen the greatest impact of the Covid-era buying mania. Comparing median prices from the first eight months of 2019 to the first eight of 2022, we find a 54% escalation on the Hill. Normal growth over a three year period would have created 9-10% in price appreciation. Expect much of that excessive price expansion to be erased over the coming months.

Compared to 2019, Beach area median prices have shot up by 32%. This is easily three times normal growth. As we see in the chart below prices started adjusting downward as early as May in the Beach cities.

Since 2019 median prices for the Inland area have climbed 30%. Here in the August 2022 chart below we see Inland area prices have been dropping steadily since May when the median was $910K. During that four month period values have slipped by over $50K.

In the Harbor area home prices have escalated 34%. From 2019 at $565K to 2020 at $607K the Harbor area median grew $40k. Then in 2021, it added another $90K reaching $700K. So far in 2022 the median has reached as high as $830K – another $130K increase, but has now dropped back to $725K, losing $105K off the June median.

Most home buyers are constrained by their income to a particular price range, and salaries have not increased at a rate even remotely similar to real estate prices. Recent studies have shown about 25% of potential buyers were priced out of the purchase market in California by the soaring Covid-era prices.

Interest Rate Shrinks Annual Sales Dollars

In total sales dollars for January through August of 2019, the South Bay weighed in with $5.3 billion. During the same period in 2020 the aggregate amount shrank back to $4.9 billion, followed in 2021 by an upward explosion to $7.9 billion. So far in 2022 the area has reached $6.9 billion.

Each time the Federal Reserve System (fed) increases the short term interest rate the pool of potential buyers shrinks again. As this is written, the Fed is preparing to increase the rate by at least .75% in mid-September and two more increases are anticipated by the end of 2022.

At the current rate of declining value, we estimate the 2022 annual sales value to be approximately $9.5 billion, a decrease of 27% from 2021. Remember that huge budget surplus California had last year? Do not anticipate another this year, and possibly not for a couple of years as the state works its way through this recession.

The Silver Lining in the Cloud

One theory of success in real estate is “Buy low, sell high.” Flippers subscribe to that concept, buying at the bottom, updating and selling at the top of the immediate market. Another theory, not as well supported, but statistically more profitable, is “Buy and Hold.” Buy a piece of property at the best price you can and use it or lease it but – never sell it.

A deep market adjustment doesn’t come very often, so when it does one should take maximum advantage. At the moment it appears there will be a heavy price contraction starting late this year. We’ll know better in late fall and early winter, but all indications today are that a wise property investor should be preparing to buy at the bottom of the market – soon. We constantly search the Southern California coast for outsstanding investment bargains. Tell us what you want to invest – we’ll tell you where to buy.

Methodology

For purposes of comparing homes in the LA South Bay, we have divided the South Bay into four areas. Each is composed of homes of roughly comparable style, geographically similar location and physical characteristics, as well as approximately similar demographic characteristics.

The areas are:
Beach: comprises the cities of El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach;
PV Hill: comprises the cities of Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates;
Harbor:. comprises the cities of San Pedro, Long Beach, Wilmington, Harbor City and Carson;
Inland: comprises the cities of Torrance, Gardena and Lomita.

Main Photo by Amelia Noyes on Unsplash

South Bay Home Sales Drop -17%

The 2022 recession appears to be coming in stronger and faster than predicted. Year to date home sales in the South Bay have dropped -17% compared to 2021 sales through July. Month to month, the change from June to July was -12%. The July drop followed a lackluster June performance of only 1% over May which was itself down -13% from April.

Money was cheap and readily available in 2021, and the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) was fore warning everyone that the mortgage interest rates were going to rise. The number of homes sold sky-rocketed, purchased both by owner-occupants and by investors hoping to snag interest rates at the absolute lowest in decades. Along with that came the bidding wars and the escalating prices. Looking back, one can readily see a correction in the making. At the time most experts were considering 2021 a trade-off for all the transactions lost during the 2020 lockdowns.

The last year we could consider normal was 2019. Compared to 2019, the number of homes sold during the first seven months of 2022 is nearly identical, hinting at a return to normalcy. However, a deeper look shows recent months dipping as much as -25% below 2019 sales volume. If sales volume continues to drop at this pace, we can anticipate starkly lower prices before the end of the year.


Steeply climbing interest rates have cost today’s buyers over 25% of their purchasing power so far in 2022. Some of those potential buyers will simply buy a less expensive home. Some of them will wait and save longer for the down payment. Some of them will become permanent renters. On the other hand, sellers have fewer options. They can decide not to sell, if that’s possible for them, or they can lower the price until a buyer can afford the home.

Median prices fell in all four market areas for July versus June of the current year. The overall drop was approximately -5%. (See chart below for detail.) So far in 2022, median prices have remained higher than those from last year. But, since April of this year median prices have consistently fallen on the year over year comparison. As noted earlier, we anticipate the median price dropping below last year sometime this fall or early winter.

Should we wait to purchase?”

We hear this question a lot, and the answer is an unequivocal “No.” In the end result, chasing the elusive “bottom of the market” is a fool’s quest. By definition, when one recognizes the bottom of the market, it‘s already gone. We recommend that when you find a home that meets most of your needs and is within your budget, you should move on it.There are several reasons.

First, because the Fed is already projecting future interest rate changes which could easily eclipse the savings to be found in a correction. Alternatively, those future rates will prevent some potential purchasers from qualifying for a loan.

Second, because economics today is a web that reaches around the world. As we have seen just in the first few days of August; allowing grain movement on the other side of the world will affect our stock market, and available interest rates overnight. We live in a very volatile world and a perfect deal today may not exist tomorrow.

Sales Volume Down, Inventory Up

In March of this year there was essentially no inventory of homes for sale in the South Bay. Sellers were reporting literally dozens of competing offers on the few homes available. Today, in August, there is easily two months of inventory and homes are sitting on the market for increasingly long periods of time.


Sales in July fell in all four sectors. The Harbor area has now shown declining sales in four consecutive months. PV Hill sales have been off three of the last four months.

The Average Days On Market (ADOM) for the homes sold in July was 17, meaning it took 17 days from the time it was listed on the MLS until an offer was accepted. The ADOM for the homes currently active on the MLS is 46 days, a full month longer than those closing escrow in July.

A lesser known indicator of market condition is the number of homes that don’t sell before leaving the MLS. In July alone, 194 homes fell off the MLS. Of those, 41 Expired never having received an acceptable offer. The remaining 153 were removed because buyers were not showing interest at the listed price. Some of those sellers truly need to sell and will come back at an improved price. Most of them were hoping for a financial windfall and have set aside their plans.

Median Price Falling for South Bay Homes


The median price fell in July for all areas. The hardest hit was the Harbor area with a -6% drop in the median. The Hill was next, with a -5% loss, followed by the Beach and the Inland areas with -4% and -3% respectively.

Of the 116 homes sold at the Beach, 22 (19%) required a price reduction before getting an offer. The Harbor required 59 out of 329 (18%), the PV Hill 9 of 53 (17%), and the Inland area 17 of 153 (11%). Those were price reductions necessary to get an offer on the property, followed by a successful sale. Let’s look at properties active on the market, still trying to get an offer.

As this is written, the Inland area, shows 211 properties available with 77 having taken one or more price reductions already, without receiving an offer. That represents 35% of the currently available Inland homes. Homes at the Beach show 96 reduced of 228 (42%), on the Hill 53 reduced of 140 (38%), Harbor 215 reduced of 547 (39%).

So we see that nearly 20% of the homes sold in July needed a price reduction to get an offer. We also see that roughly 40% of the homes currently on the market have had one price reduction and may need further changes to stimulate offers.

Total Sales Revenue

The decrease in the number of homes sold in July, combined with the decline in median price for those homes pretty much guaranteed that the total sales value would drop as well. Across the South Bay revenue fell from last month by -16%. This will not make our tax assessor happy. Interestingly enough, Los Angeles County Tax Assessor Jeff Prang recently announced with pride a $122 billion growth in County property tax assessments as of January 1, 2022.


The Beach area fared the best, dropping only -2% in value. We noted quite a number of homes being sold as furnished rentals in July, like this one in Hermosa Beach. The Beach Cities are noted for their short stay vacation rentals (often referred to generically as AirBnBs) whether approved by the various cities, or not. Unfortunately there is no official accounting system for these properties. Even if one existed, many of the operators would be very resistant to a governmental accounting which could cause them taxation issues.

For the moment, Beach values seem to be the strongest of the South Bay. The Inland area followed with a -9% decline in total sales dollars. The Harbor area was next, off by -17%.

On the surface homes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula took the worst beating with a -41% decline in value from June sales. We remind our readers that the PV Hill is small by comparison to the other areas. As such, statistical measurements often appear distorted because many of the homes are unique and generate significant sales prices. Having said that, this month was a relatively mundane one for PV. Of the 53 sales, the low was an attached two bedroom, two bath condo which sold at $557K. The high sale was a six bedroom, 8 bathroom house in Rolling Hills which sold at $8 million. (For your valuation purposes, click here to see photographs and descriptions of the two homes.)

Lots of Red Ink


The table below shows the percentage of change in the number of homes sold and the median price of those homes two ways. The yellow shows change for the current month versus the prior month. The green shows change for the current month versus the same month last year.

From a seller’s perspective, these numbers would ideally all be black/positive. When any of them become red it shows a retrenchment in the South Bay real estate market.

From a buyer’s perspective the red ink is a good sign. It means purchasers can get more home for their money. For them, the real savings will come when that last column turns red.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

PV Prices Surge; Beach Plummets

Palos Verdes Median Up +19% From May

We’ve said for years that land on the Palos Verdes peninsula is undervalued. We may not be able to say that much longer. Last month property on the Hill took another big jump upward in median price. That’s the second time in six months. When that yellow line peaked in February we found several new construction homes closed escrow in the same month boosting the median price dramatically.

PV Median Up $364K while Beach falls by $80K

This time we found two homes, selling in the same month, at over $10,000,000. To put that in perspective, during the past 12 months only four properties on the Hill have reached the $10M mark. So what are these rarefied houses that bring in over-the-top median prices? Let’s take a closer look. (Photos at link.)

The listing agent described 2005 Paseo del Mar as a single level with 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, formal living and dining rooms, 2 family rooms, pool, 4 car garage with gated entry and circular driveway. So what makes it worth $12.4M instead of $2M?

It seems 4582 square feet of house sitting on over an acre of land on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean is worth about $10M more than if it had an inland address.

Similarly, 1417 Lower Paseo la Cresta is a grand estate offering over 15,000 square feet of lavish living space spread over 3 levels, with 9 bedrooms,13 bathrooms and two full kitchens. Additional highlights include the custom 15-seat theater, Italian Fantini mosaic pool, elevator, generator and an extensive home automation system.

Beach Cities Sales Down -34% From 2021

The Inland cities clearly leap-frogged the other three areas in volume of sales for June. Sales in the Inland area out-paced the rest of South Bay, erasing a -17% decline from May of this year and adding a +13% increase for June .

The next closest monthly sales volume was a +2% at the Beach. Harbor area sales showed the poorest comparable performance, dropping by -4% for the month, continuing a three month slide. Monthly sales volume in the Harbor area has declined 135 units just since March.

Let’s focus on the Harbor and that red line on the chart for just a moment. Remember this is an entry level market, where a little rise in the mortgage interest rate can quickly price a new buyer out of the running. Notice that sales in the Harbor area were at about 300 homes per month in January. By February a few buyers had noticed the interest rates climbing and took the leap.

Then March became the proverbial “last chance” to buy in the fast moving current market. Sales volume shot through the ceiling with a 61% increase in homes sold. Since then we have watched a classic collapse with prospective buyers melting into the woodwork, waiting for another opportunity.

Annual statistics are still reflecting the impact of two plus years of pandemic. Compared to June of last year, sales were down dramatically. The Inland area fared the best, coming in with a drop 0f -6% from 2021. Sales in the Beach cities and the Harbor area fell the farthest with a -34% and a -29% respectively.

Total Dollars Sold Up 71% In Just Two Years

Back in 2020, the first six months of the year had netted slightly over $3.1B in South Bay home sales. Fast forward to the first six months of 2022 and total sales is slightly over $5.3B. Restated, that’s a 71% increase in dollars spent on real estate in just two years.

Much of that increase was the result of the phenomenally low interest rates created by the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) to offset the financial impact of the pandemic. It was good for all those people who wanted homes and had down payment money. Investors did especially well, though we saw another big expansion of the inequality gap.

Coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing the four areas moving erratically. The steep climbs of 2020 and 2021 seem to be leveling off, as the Fed tries desperately to slow what is viewed as a runaway real estate market.

Total sales dollars in 2019 were $7.9B, in 2020 up to $8.7B, and in 2021 up again to $12.1B. Since mortgage rates are still climbing, it’s a little early for forecasting, but we anticipate 2022 total sales to come in at about $11.3B.

Where Are We Going?

Comparing last year’s market to 2022 shows a continuing decline in sales, while simultaneously a continuing increase in median prices. That may still change before the end of the year.

In May we saw the quantity sold drop into the red numbers across the South Bay. For June the sales volume is only off in the Harbor area, but the Hill and the Beach are both marginal. We expect sales to gradually slow as the year closes. Indications are the Fed will ratchet up the mortgage interest rate another 2% which should bring transaction volume down substantially.

May also saw the median price drop at the Harbor. Then in June the median fell for the Beach cities and the Inland areas, while the Harbor bounced back. We expect both the median and the sales volume to fall back into the red zone by the end of the year.

Sales volume should move first. Then as sales slow and buyers become more selective, sellers will begin retrenching on price. We don’t anticipate major price reductions until 2023. However, there are a lot of moving parts to this years economy. Events on the other side of the world may still make big changes here.

Photo by Josephine Lin on Unsplash

LA South Bay Real Estate: May 2022

Number of Homes Sold

The number of homes sold in the South Bay has declined from last month, and has declined from last year. The quantities are actually rather dramatic given that May is typically a time of increasing sales. The drops range from -7% to -17% lower than April sales of this year, and from -17% to -25% below May of last year.

With over half the year remaining, mortgage interest rates have doubled, currently sitting around 6%. The hike in interest rates has so far reduced the average buying power by about -25%. Coupled with home price increases estimated to have risen 38% since the start of the pandemic, the immediate future of real estate looks dismal.

202205_sales_vol_chart

Inflated consumer prices are also blocking potential home buyers as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) climbs toward a 10% annual hike. There’s little chance of saving for a down payment when the price of everything on the shopping list is going up..

Retirement accounts are often a source of down payment funds. As of this writing the major stock market indices are all down: Dow Jones Industrial Average, -16%; S&P 500, -22%; Nasdaq Composite, -31%. Forecasts are growing for a Fed-induced recession that may begin as soon as this fall. Some potential buyers may see borrowing from their retirement fund to purchase a property as a means to preserve the capital during a recession. Others may not be in a position to do that.

Median Price Sold

May prices delivered a mixed message. The Palos Verdes Peninsula, which had seen two months of decline from a temporarily high median price, headed back up again. The Beach cities continued a steady climb, and the Inland area showed a modest price increase after having dropped 1% in April.

However, the Harbor area, which is as large as the other three areas combined, took a -6% hit to prices. We anticipate the Harbor and Inland areas, which comprise the bulk of the traditional middle class family homes in South Bay, to be the first to react to the economic stress.

Typically, the recession cycle starts with a slowing of sales. As properties languish on the market, sellers begin to reduce prices. One after another, median sales prices will drop until the price reduction offsets the impact to buyers. At that point, buyers will begin to support the reduced purchase prices and we can see growth in the market.

Experts differ in their estimates of how long this cycle will take, and when we can expect the market bottom. There are some predicting a rapid fall based on the speed with which the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) is reacting. The June meeting of the Fed ended with a .75% hike in the prime rate, and a promise to raise it at least another .75% before the end of the year. While that could slow the economy as early as the beginning of 2023, more conservative minds suggest the end of 2023 for a turn-around.

Area Sales Dollars

The total sales dollars tell the truest story. While sales are slowing and median prices are beginning to slow, the combination shows up here.

Everywhere except the Beach is showing reductions in total sales on a month to month basis, and on a year over year basis. The declines are small to date, with year over year ranging from -1% to -10% in May. Month to month changes ranged from +2% at the Beach to -19% in the Harbor area.

202205_monthly_sales_$_chart

These early numbers follow the general pattern we’ve seen in recent recessions, whereby entry level homes are the first impacted and the last to recover. We anticipate the Harbor area to lead the charge down, followed by the Inland area. Recent years have shown the Beach to be the strongest growth area, so we expect the recession to hit there last, following declines on the Hill.

The nature of the impending recession is still uncertain. Some pundits are saying that at least initially we should expect “stagflation,” that odd environment we first encountered back in the 1990s when prices of everything continued to climb, along with job layoffs and massive unemployment. Other forecasters suggest that because the international economy is roiling with continuing high tariffs (courtesy of the last administration) and new monetary sanctions daily (courtesy of the current administration), this particular recession may last much longer than normal.

In Summary

As the table below shows, the majority of the negative impact for May happened in the quantity of housing units sold. With one exception, prices continued to escalate. We believe this is temporary and likely to change before the end of the year. The -6% drop in median price at the Harbor presages the direction of home pricing as inventory grows and listings stagnate.

Approximately 3 out of 4 listings coming across our desk recently have been either Price Reduction or Back On Market. That means property is staying on the market longer. The Average Days On Market (DOM) for May ranged from 10 days on the PV Hill to 14 days in the Harbor area. As recently as this winter we were still seeing multiple offers on the first day the property was available.

Another measure of the market condition is how far the average sales price declines in the first 30 days on market. We did a quick look for May and came up with these statistics. Thirty days after the original listing, the price had dropped from the original: at the Beach, -9%; the Harbor -6%; PV Hill -18%; Inland -5%. As of May, we’re also seeing property that has been on the market for several months, with several price reductions.

Notable Properties

The high and low sales for May were not terribly dramatic. A Manhattan Hill section home and a downtown Long Beach condominium. Thay are simply very big, and very small.

High Sale

Located at 812 5th St, this Manhattan Beach hill section home was originally listed at $10.5M and sold for $8,980,000 after 34 days active on the market. The home offers six bedrooms and seven full bathrooms in 5576 sq ft. Amenities included ocean view, pool, spa, custom waterfall & fire features, a full basement with recreation/media room, home theater, storage, a temperature-controlled wine cellar, and private guest quarters.

Low Sale

Measuring barely 381 sq ft, the studio condo at 819 E 4th St #25 sold for $215,000 in one day. Located in the vibrant East Village of Downtown Long Beach this tiny home offers a remodelled kitchen and bathroom. The unit sits on the second floor, overlooking the intersection of 4th and Alimitos and within walking distance of many downtown shops, clubs and eateries.

Main photo by Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash

LA South Bay Real Estate: The Recession Has Arrived

In a normal year one would expect April to be the turning point for the LA real estate market. March is still cold and the children are still in school for another 10 weeks. April’s the month when the weather turns warm, the flower buds poke up, and the buyers come out to start the spring buying season. It hasn’t happened that way this year.

Prices had gone through the ceiling by the end of 2021, much of the activity stimulated by fear of escalating mortgage interest rates. Usher in 2022–January and February were typically slow and in March home sales bounced up like an indicator of business as usual. But, interest rates continued to climb and April ended with the total number of home sales down instead of up. Likewise, total sales dollars were down across the South Bay.

Number of Homes Sold

Judging from the charts, entry level homes in the Harbor area were clearly the center of activity for South Bay real estate. As interest rates pushed against the 5% mark, panic set in among first time buyers who had been outbid multiple times. Prices went up as high as buyers could afford, a number that shrinks amazingly fast with each tenth of a percent increase in the interest rate.

Across the South Bay, the number of homes sold in April dropped by -4% from March, which had been an increase of 59% over the prior month. As we see from the chart below, sales were uneven between the various areas.

On the entry level front, at the same time Harbor area home sales were dropping off, Inland homes gained sales. On the high end, sales on the Palos Verdes peninsula were also facing declining numbers, while Beach area sales increased.

So far declining sales counts have been modest, but a decline overall, coupled with a decline in half of the individual areas covered indicates that buyers are pulling back. Part of the resistance is a matter of simply being priced out of the market. Another important piece is the anticipation of price corrections in the near future. We have heard multiple buyers say they are watching and waiting for lower prices later this year.

At this point we’re well into the second quarter of the year and it looks as though those folks may be on track for some savings. even some of our most gung-ho pundits are beginning to see a market downturn on the horizon.

Median Price Sold

Interestingly, Harbor area prices went up at the same time the number of sales went down.The March to April price increase was a modest +6% compared to a +21% increase over April of last year. Similarly, the Beach cities had a month over month increase of +4%, while showing +19% year over year. While sales prices are still rising in those areas, the increase is a fraction of what it was last year.

Sold prices on the Hill continued to slide downwards. Because the February increase in the median price was created by the sale of new construction, and that building phase is now sold out, a downward turn in median price is expected. We anticipate that leveling off soon.

In the Inland area the median price for homes sold during April of 2022, was +12% greater than sales in April of 2021. By comparison, the median price of those sold in March of 2022 versus April of 2022 decreased by -1%. It’s a modest decrease that points to the direction of the South Bay real estate market for the balance of the year.

Area Sales Dollars

The total dollar value of home sales in the South Bay usually tracks right along with the number of units sold. The few times it differs are important times like these when the number of homes sold is dropping, and/or the sales prices are dropping. Today, of the four areas we track, PV Hill has a declining number of sales, both in comparison to last year and in comparison to last month. As we noted above, the area also is declining in total dollars compared to last year and last month.

As we discussed in last month’s issue, some of the reason for the drop is found in new construction homes that sold at a much higher price than the typical Palos Verdes resale home. The rest of it can be found in longer days on market waiting for a buyer, and in price reductions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Beach cities showed gains last month for both number of units sold and for the total sales value of those homes. The only decline this month for the Beach was in number sold compared to April of last year. Sales this April were off by -21%.

The Harbor area still trended upward in dollar value, both month over month and year over year. But, the number of units sold was down for both time measurements. The price competition was very stiff in what is generally an entry level market. During the past couple years, bidding wars and over-asking sales prices have kept the dollars high. The April numbers show that changing rapidly.

Total dollar sales for the Inland community increased 15% month over month. That was the highest growth of all four areas. Scanning those individual transactions showed an odd pattern. Sales in the price range from about $325K up to about $750K were a familiar mix of some under asking price, some at asking and some above asking. The degree of variance was about what one would expect. Unexpectedly, for sales over $750K, nearly every property sold above asking price, and in many cases well above asking.

We found no clear explanation for why this phenomena occurred. There is a suspicion that buyers who were priced out of Beach properties may have shifted their bidding wars into the increasingly popular parts of west Torrance. This theory is supported by the distribution of sales among the various neighborhoods.

In Summary

In the table below are the core statistics comparing April to March of this year, and comparing April of this year to April of 2021. The prevalence of negative numbers is convincing evidence that high prices and high interest rates are pushing the South Bay real estate market into a recession.

Notable Properties

One of the more interesting properties sold in April is a four bedroom, five bathroom home located in west Torrance. The home was purchased by the seller as their family home in 1990 for just above $360K. The children grew up and the parents remodeled in 2022 and sold the house.

As would be expected in a good neighborhood with a contemporary remodel, the home sold for over the asking price of $2.7M. The final selling price was slightly over $3M. and just happened to be almost exactly $360K over the asking price.

In the 32 years that family owned the home it appreciated at an average rate in excess of $84K per year. It’s the classic “American Dream.”

Main photo by Amy Vosters on Unsplash

Inflation Hits Los Angeles: South Bay Real Estate – March 2022

The Federal Reserve Bank tries to keep annual inflation at around 2%. Over the past 12 months the median price increase of a home in the South Bay ranged from 7% (Inland area) to 32% (PV Hill). Clearly housing in the LA area is exceeding the desired inflation rate.

The recent Fed report to Congress stated, “Mortgage rates for households remain low despite recent increases.” In other words, the Fed considers 5% mortgage rates to be “low.” As part of the battle to control runaway inflation, the Fed is expected to implement rate increases. Estimates for how much higher we can expect mortgage rates to rise in the coming year range from approximately 1% to 2% more.

Rates currently at about 5%, we can already see an impact on sales volume and prices in our local monthly data. Real estate industry pundits are projecting an imminent recession. Some say “mild, in 2023.” Some are comparing the current market environment to the 2007 lead-up to the Great Recession. Keeping a probable recession in mind, let’s look at the March sales data.

Sales Volume

March is the month when South Bay denizens shake off the winter doldrums and get serious about real estate. The chart last year looked very similar to this. This year the Hill and the Beach were up slightly from last year. The Inland and Harbor areas increased at the same rate as in 2021. Compared to last year’s market, 2022 is distinctly more normal.

The chart makes it look like the Harbor area took an especially large leap in March. That’s just because the Harbor area is so much larger and so many more homes are sold there than the other three areas.. On a percentile basis, sales of Beach homes actually increased at a steeper rate. Sales at the Beach were up from the prior month by 71%, while Harbor area sales increased by 61%.

Normally, we would expect the sales volume to level off now and remain roughly a even line until winter when sales taper off again. If, in the battle to contain inflation, mortgage interest rates climb as fast as the Fed has indicated, we can expect to see the number of homes selling decline. We expect buyers who must buy will adjust the size of the purchase to meet their financing capability. Buyers who aren’t compelled to buy will probably delay and wait for better circumstances.

Median Price

Today, the best measure of home prices is comparing to last month. The market in 2021 was recovering, so some statistics are comparable, while others are still showing signs of impact from the pandemic.

March gave us a month-to-month downturn of -4% on the Hill. Of course, if you remember from last month, February saw escrow close on several new construction homes. Those units pushed the median price exceptionally high, so what we’re seeing now is a return to normal.

While median prices on the Hill were dipping, the Harbor area was flat. Prices there were +4% in January, slowed to +1% in February and had no change in March. This is the largest market area in the South Bay and is often a precursor for change.

The Beach and the Inland areas show continuing price increases of 3% and 5% respectively. Looking back to the first of the year, the Beach has been varied. The March price shift at the Beach is down from the February increase of 6%, but is up from the January decrease of -12%. The Inland numbers show steady growth from -2% in January to +5% in March.

Monthly Sales Dollars

The dollar value of March sales in the South Bay showed positive increases for all areas for the first time this year. This is important because normal growth in our capitalist system will almost always show the sold value from the current year to be larger than that of the preceeding year. The negative numbers from January and February are reflections of the troubled economics of 2021.

We expect the sales dollars to level out as the median price pulls back to a normal growth pattern. If the Fed is to realize any kind of reasonable slowdown for inflation, the monthly median prices have to stabilize at a rate of increase barely above zero. As of March the cumulative median for each area ranges from +3% to +20%. We’re not going to get to +2% inflation with those results.

The Statistics

Supposedly, charts are easier to read for most people. I like to include this table because it packs all the data from the three charts above, plus background detail, into a fraction of the space. Here we see the specific quanties sold in each area, plus the median price of the area, for the month of March.

% symbol indicates no change from prior period.

More importantly, the table shows at a glance how March 2022 compared to February of this year, and March of last year. All four areas currently have increasing sales, in part because the inventory is growing. In addition, there’s a bit of panic from the rapid interest rate increase.

At the same time, the table quickly shows that the median price has moderated in all four areas from what was happening in 2021.

Notable Sales

The South Bay in Los Angeles is a highly diverse area. In the distance of a few minutes it’s possible to drive from the lowest priced property sold in March to the highest priced property sold in March.

This studio condo in Long Beach sold for $249,900. It offers 441 sqft of airspace, no assigned parking, has an HOA fee of $149, and was originally built in 1913.


This 7 bedroom, 15 bathroom house in Palos Verdes Estates sold for $17,150,000. It offers 13,000 sqft on a 3 acre lot, has 5 garage spaces and was built in 2006.

Main photograph by Randy Jose on Unsplash

February 2022 Real Estate News for Los Angeles South Bay

Palos Verdes New Home Sales Surprise!

February sales data carried a surprise for South Bay residents. With fewer monthly sales than last year, the median price for PV homes sold has made a huge jump. The average number of homes sold on the Hill in 2021 was 88, and December recorded 87 sales. January saw 47 sales and February 60. At the same time the sales volume was dropping, the median sales price jumped by over 33%! (Details at Median Prices below.)

Sales in the Harbor area were up 5% from last month. Increased real estate activity and prices in the Harbor have been anticipated for some time now and are gradually coming to fruition. The multi-billion dollar investment in the West Harbor commercial development has spawned a number of smaller development projects throughout San Pedro. On the east side, Long Beach has been steadily adding infrastructure across much of the city. The net result is improved real estate markets across the Harbor area.

The number of homes sold in the Beach cities was essentially flat with 75 sold in January and 76 in February. This is however significantly down from the average monthly sales of 159 units in 2021, and from the December sales of 132 units. In a unique twist, the drop in sales volume is a return to sales numbers we were experiencing before the Covid19 pandemic.

In a further shift downward, Inland home sales dropped off from an average of 168 in 2021 and a total of 160 homes sold in December. January fell to 119 and February fell again to 105 homes sold. A modest decline in sales volume is expected during the winter months. Once again, as we saw at the Beach, we’re seeing the same return to pre-pandemic numbers for Inland home sales. One could almost think things are normal again.

Median Prices Going Up, Up & Up

Take a look at what’s happening with PV prices. That yellow line on the chart below shows an explosion in median prices on the Hill. Pre-pandemic, the median was just under $1.5M. January it was $1.7M–February it’s $2.3M.

We found that 19 newly constructed residences have been sold at the Rolling Hills Country Club development over the past six months. Those homes sold for a median price of $4.1M, boosting the median dramatically and adding $80M to cumulative sales for the Hill.

The median for Beach cities home sales is up $100K from January and stands at $1.6M, up from the pre-pandemic median of $1.3M. Harbor area and Inland prices are similarly up showing signs of a pending correction from the overly enthusiastic bidding wars of the past couple years.

We anticipate a leveling of the median prices across the South Bay, with the exception of unique circumstances like new construction at the Rolling Hills Country Club. As the Federal Reserve Bank increases interest rates, some buyers will drop out of the market. Sales are expected to slow while time on the market expands and prices contract.

Cumulative Home Sales Dollars

We wrote above about the steep yellow line for sales on the Hill. If nothing else, adding $60M to the monthly sales total should serve to demonstrate that if someone will build homes, they will sell.

The Beach and Harbor areas are both up about $20M over January numbers. Although slower than it was last year, the demand for housing is still strong.

Inland total sales dollars are down $6M for the month of February. Occasionally we see February sales totals drop from January, however it’s rare. We suspect the sales decline for the Inland area is a harbinger of the future for all of the South Bay.

The Statistics

As usual we’ll close with the statistics for last month as compared to the prior month and compared to the same month last year. The negative numbers (red) will quickly show that Inland home sales declined from January to February. Glancing at the other areas, we can see the Beach area volume was a mere 1% growth, while the Harbor showed strong sales and PV went through the roof compared to prior month.

Three red blocks jump out comparing to February of 2021. This is not surprising considering we were well into a panic buying season this time last year. This is reminiscent of most months in 2021 when we were able to only compare to the prior month because of Covid-contaminated statistics.

The strong Harbor area performance stands out here. A 4% gain over last year versus a 30% drop in volume at the Beach is certainly something to watch next month!

Photo by Olga Subach on Unsplash

January 2022 Real Estate News for Los Angeles South Bay

January 2022 showed a different face than we were seeing all last year. Of course, in many respects that’s a good thing. Depending on whether you’re buying or selling, the real estate market for 2022 could be wonderful or horrible. As always, the location will make an even bigger difference.

Sales Volume Dropping

Check out all the red ink in the table below. Compared to December, sales volume is down by nearly 50% at the Beach and on the Hill. November and December of 2021 were heavy with transactions spurred on by the fear of increasing interest rates. The number of homes sold in comparison to January of last year also dropped, though not to as great an extent.

Sales volume down, prices up

As of right now interest rates are expected to hover in the 3.5% to 4% range for the balance of the year. The increase from under 3% to roughly 3.5% has served to lock a substantial portion of entry level buyers into the rental pool. Those who found a place and could afford to buy last year did. The first part of this year is expected to continue to show declining sales volume as many first time buyers drop out of the purchasing market.

Prices Starting to Reverse Direction

Prices meanwhile are faltering in the unsustainable march upward. As the table above shows, the Beach and the Inland areas have already begun declines in the median price. Simultaneously buyers in the Harbor and Palos Verdes communities have continued pushing purchase prices higher, though not nearly as fast as last year.

We expect price corrections in all four areas as the year rolls out. Initially, we anticipate buyers in the Inland and Harbor areas to balk at the combination of higher interest rates and historically higher prices. Lower priced homes are traditionally impacted sooner and to a greater degree by changes in mortgage interest.

Homes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and in the Beach communities of the South Bay are expected to also experience price declines as the market adjusts to the new reality of higher prices, steeper interest rates and the shrinking impact of Covid.

The Covid Connection

Covid wreaked havoc with social lives, business practices and just about every other aspect of society. When the pandemic struck in 2020 the real estate world was already heated because of low interest rates. Unfortunately, protecting society from Covid meant slowing down much of the business world, including real estate transactions. For months agents were dealing with masks, alcohol gel and the task of wiping every surface touched by potential buyers. And the buyers kept coming because the interest rates made buying a home affordable for many.

By the time 2021 started, the industry had found ways to show property and ways to consummate paperwork with relative safety from Covid. Keeping one eye on the mortgage interest rate, the buying public responded promptly. It was one of the busiest years ever for brokers and agents. As the year ended and lenders continued raising the cost of purchase loans, buyers started showing signs of stress.

January appears to have been the fulcrum point for a shift in market dynamics. The people involved are more than ready for relief from Covid. Bidding wars have all but ended. Price reductions are coming after only a few weeks on the market. The State has declared Covid “endemic.” Essentially we’re ready for normal business.

The first month of the year has pointed in the direction of a slowing market, with some pricing shifts to compensate for over-exuberant purchases in the close out of 2021. We anticipate February to show more of the same. We’ll be back soon with charts comparing the monthly progress. (You’ll find the beginning charts for 2022 at the bottom. Not real exciting without data to compare.)

The High Sale and the Low Sale

We’ve had requests for a little “human interest” added to the dry statistics we throw out here every month. We’re going to try to do that while still maintaining privacy for the people involved. Let us know how we’re doing.

For example, an observation we made this past month was the highest sale versus the lowest sale as reported by TheMLS for January. Those of you who follow us know the Beach areas are invariably at the top of the chart, so you won’t be surprised to find that the highest sale in January was in the Manhattan Beach hill section. New in 2021, this expansive 6 bed, 6.5 bath home sold for $6.5M. At nearly 6500 square feet, that’s over $1,000 per sq ft.

It’s far from the highest price we’ve seen there, but that piqued our curiousity. So we looked to the other end and found the lowest January sale in our part of the South Bay. Down from 6500 sq ft to 400 sq ft, and from $6.5M to $255K, this studio condo in Long Beach calculates out to a hair over $600 per sq ft. In other words, about 60% of the cost to build new construction in Manhattan Beach.

2022 Charts – The Beginning Point

The first chart of the year is less than exciting. We’ve included them here for reference. In March, when we can compare January to February and we can be confident we are past the bulk of the pandemic, these should be much more interesting and informative.

2021 Real Estate Summary – Los Angeles South Bay

2020 versus 2021

2021 was a year of tears for many people. But, not so for most South Bay property owners. Briefly, median sales prices across the area increased between 9% (the Inland areas) and 24% (on the Hill). Those are incredibly large increases. To put it in perspective, the median price increase the previous year, 2020, was less than half that, ranging from 4% (at the beach) to 9% (Hill and Inland).

Similarly, the year over prior year sales volume for 2021 was up in a range from 18% (harbor area) to 22% (beach and hill). This compared to a range from decline of 6% (inland area) to an increase of 7% (hill) for 2020.

Along with median sales value increasing and number of units sold increasing, we also saw astronomical increases in total sales dollars for the year. The change from 2020 to 2021 ranged from 33% (harbor) to 52% (hill). That compared to a range from 2% (inland) to 20% (hill) for the transition from 2019 to 2020.

These huge percentages are uncomfortably like the years 2006 and 2007 leading up to the Great Recession. It’s highly unlikely that 2022 will continue at this pace. We anticipate the year starting out with listings priced on the high end, with subsequent price reductions as “distressed” properties come on the market with more appealing prices.

So called “distressed” properties include those which have been hidden from the market by the Covid-inspired moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. Now that lenders are allowed to process foreclosures, we are beginning to see properties come on the market as “pre-foreclosure.” Here in the South Bay we have yet to see any significant number of bank-owned property come on the market, though at least ten distressed homes have been listed in the past three months in Los Angeles county.

In the end, most real estate sales involve a family home where buying or selling is dictated by events beyond the property owner’s control rather than by market trends. Births, deaths and new employment top the list of reasons for transactions that will happen regardless of market conditions. If you anticipate a need to sell in the next few months, we recommend you consult with your broker/agent early. Ask about marketing or negotiating techniques that will deliver the best result in a slowing market given your circumstances.

Year-End Housing Sales Drop

Regular readers will recognize that we’ve been seeing the sales volume declining for a couple months now. On the one hand, it’s understandable because we report actual sales results, as opposed to seasonally adjusted results. Being the winter season, sales are slower.

On the other hand, nearly everyone has been ignoring the white elephant in the marketplace. Let’s face it, prices have gone up dramatically, the interest rate is climbing at a quickening pace, and inflation is on the rise. Combined, those factors foretell fewer qualified buyers, more inventory on the market and some pullback on the recent price increases. We’ll talk more about that next month when we take a first look at real estate in 2022. If you’re about to make a move and need information sooner, give us a call.

Sales quantity fell off from the November numbers everywhere except in the Palos Verdes area. There we found a healthy 10% increase in activity for December. (With a hundred or fewer units sold in any given month, statistics related to sales volume on the Hill can have some wild variations.) Sales rose by 10% from last month, but fell 11% from last year.

Harbor area sales slowed the most in the South Bay. Of course, sales there and in the Inland cities had increased dramatically early in the year. The confluence of low interest rates threatening to go up, with burgeoning demand from first time buyers, drove sales numbers all year. As the mortgage interest rate passed three percent, many of those first timers fell out of the market.

Year-End Median Prices Mixed

Palos Verdes homes brought in 24% more in median prices last year than the year before, which was 9% above 2019. Most of the 2021 increase came in the first three months of the year. Prices were stable for the summer before dropping in the fall. At the same time, Beach homes went up 19% in 2021, compared to a 4% increase in 2020 over 2019. Much the same in the Harbor area, median prices doubled, up 15% over 2020, compared to 7% above 2019.

In an interesting anomaly, prices in the Inland increased 9% over last year, which was 9% above 2019. It seems the purchasing mania and bidding wars didn’t have as much impact to Inland areas.

By mid-year all areas had seen one or two months of declining median prices on a month-to-month basis. As the year wore on, the “down” months grew and the “up” months shrank. Despite the year-over-year median price being up, three out of the final six months of the year saw declining median prices in all areas.

On a month over month basis, selling prices on the Hill were the most impacted in December, dropping 10% from November. Harbor area homes fell by 4%, while Inland property values were up 6% and homes at the Beach grew 7%.

The Beach areas enjoyed significant appreciation in 2021. Prices at the Beach started the year at just over $1.4M, moved quickly up to $1.7M in August, then lost $150K of those gains before springing up to close the year out at a median price of nearly $1.8M.

Year-End Total Sales Dollars

The total dollar value of all the homes sold in the South Bay in a given month or year is probably only useful to investors or economists. At the same time it can be instructive by way of demostrating market direction. For example, let’s look to total sales on a monthly basis.

In total dollars South Bay homes sales for 2021 were up 38% from 2020 sales. That compares to a 10% increase from 2019 to 2020. Looking at individual months, the bulk of that revenue increase happened between January and July. By August the 2020 to 2021 increases had slowed to single digits. By December, the Beach and Inland areas were already seeing monthly declines compared to 2020.

The December year-to-year decline in total sales dollars was only 5% at the Beach but compare that to an increase of 156% in April. The Inland areas dropped 3% for the same period, compared to a 159% increase in sales for May. Harbor area sales were up 8% compared to 106% in May. Palos Verdes December sales were up 2% compared to 228% in May.

What does all this mean? For most of 2021 we cautioned readers that year to year comparisons were problematic because in 2020 no one was truly prepared for Covid. Business exploded in the first three quarters of 2020. It took until August and September of 2021 to get past the previous year’s damage, so camparisons were even explicable. Until then nothing is there to compare to. Businesses were locked down. Consumers and retailers alike were hunkered down at home. That’s why 2021 annual percentages are so large–they’re an anomaly! Only the last few months of 2021 are valid comparisons to historically relevant statistics.

In Summary

From our perspective it looks like we’re headed into a correction. One might even look at it as a correction from a correction. It’s as though the real estate market over-corrected from the Covid collapse and boomed for about three quarters. Now we’re coming back down to some pretty solid numbers.

We expect January 2022 to look a lot like this table, with some moderation of the numbers. That moderation should continue into the year as sellers and buyers move closer together on their initial expectations. By the end of summer we predict the market will show the first indications of pulling together for another roughly 10 year cycle.

We like to think of the proverbial real estate cycle as three steps forward–one step back. It’s important to note that this is the “back step” of the cycle. As such, it’s probably the lowest price a purchaser can expect to see for that product in the next decade, if ever again. At the same time, it’s probably the last opportunity for a seller to trade up without having to make significant upgrades to the product, or taking a big hit for deferred maintenance. By 2023 we should be working on building long term market value.

Thank you for reading. Our lead photo is courtesy of Michael Fallon. See https://unsplash.com/@fallonmichaeltx . As always, we’re here if you have a question or want to bounce an idea off us.

November 2021 Real Estate – Los Angeles South Bay

Sales Volume Declining

Real estate sales prices in the Los Angeles South Bay for November were mixed on declining sales volume. The declining volume is to be expected, given that we’re entering the slower winter selling season. Even SoCal slows down a little bit in the winter.

Another obvious impact is coming from the economic disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. The appearance of the omicron variant just as we begin year end celebrations has struck a fearful chord among more vulnerable segments of the population. So there are multiple reasons for the number of units sold to drop as it has for most of the South Bay.

Statistics show Palos Verdes as the only area to have an increase in sales for November. Looking more in depth, we discover this is actually the second month in succession that PV sales volume has been well below the 2021 average of 89 units monthly. September sales were exceptionally good at 114 units sold, then October plummeted to 73 before coming back up to 79 in November.

Median Price Mixed

Changes to the median price ranged from -2% in PV to +10% at the Beach. The +10 percent at the Beach makes up for price drops in September and October. Sales prices have been relatively stable since March in all areas.

It’s important to remember that the number of homes in the Beach cities and on the Palos Verdes peninsula is quite a bit smaller than either the Harbor or the Inland areas. The smaller sample size causes sharper and more dramatic looking movements in the charts.

We expect to end the year 2021 with strong price appreciation. However, early forecasts for 2022 are coming in with warnings about downward pressure on prices as a result of an anticipated increase in short sales and foreclosures. Because lenders were prevented from processing evictions during the pandemic, homeowners who were not able to pay their mortgage are now facing possible refinance, short sale or foreclosure. Some sources expect 3-5% of next years sales to be “distressed” transactions.

Monthly Sales Dollars

Cumulative dollars per month of residential sales started the year way down on the charts. Home buyers and sellers alike were at a loss as to where the pandemic was going and sat still. March brought activity back to the real estate market as sales–and sale prices–raced upward.

As the chart shows market conditions bounced up or down through most of the year as the public mood shifted with the ebb and flow of Covid-19 surges and successes.

As we near the end of a rocky, uneven year we’re seeing the monthly sales numbers settle into a more rational pattern. It’s the winter season, so the minor drop-off in sales we see in the charts is to be expected. December should be slightly lower, giving us a gentle end to 2021.

The Stats

Year-to-year statistics for the first half of 2021 were essentially useless because we were comparing “apples to oranges.” The first quarter of 2020 was “business as normal” and the second quarter was significantly reduced as the pandemic brought sales activity to a near halt.

By the second half of 2020 protocols for showing and selling property became established and business started returning to something close to normal. Mortgage interest rates were still under 3% creating solid motivation for buying and selling. And there were more buyers than sellers resulting in bidding wars and rapidly escalating prices.

Much of that activity slowed when the the “winter surge” of Covid hit. Homes were still selling, but at a slower pace from October through February of 2021. Then March and warmer weather arrived, which combined with the increasing number of vaccinated individuals, put the real estate market into overdrive.

Compared to last year November shows the number of sales slower in the Harbor and PV Hill areas, while sales have picked up at the Beach and Inland. Though sales are slower, the price increases have abated very little. Home affordability is slated to become even more of a problem than it has been in LA.

Main Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Oct. 2021 – Real Estate Sales Los Angeles South Bay

October is the turning point where the heat and excitement of summer cools, the children are back to school–in person this year–and the real estate market starts to button up for the winter. Being SoCal as we are, we don’t button up as much as most of the nation, but things do slow considerably between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

We’re seeing normalcy appear more and more often, now that the pandemic is winding down. During the first quarter of 2021 we watched month-over-month volume changes ranging from a 33% decline to a 69% increase. Seeing some of the monthly statistics moving back into the single digits is highly encouraging.

Throughout this year we have essentially ignored the comparison of 2021 to 2020. The “Lost Year” of 2020, compounded as it was with the pandemic and what was anticipated to be a minor recession, has been a nightmare in terms of short term business projections. Trying to understand where the real estate market is headed, we have resorted to comparing two or three month trends, which is more or less like playing the slots.

Now in the fall of the year, looking at slower winter months ahead, rationality seems to be returning in the statistics we’re seeing–not all– but, most.

Sales Volume – Some Down, Some Up

As we can see by the yellow line in the chart below, Palos Verdes sales volume took a big dive this month. The Harbor was up, the Beach was up, but the inland was down and sales on the PV Hill was way down.

We’re not able to see any outstanding reason for the 36% drop in the number of homes sold in PV for October versus September. Similarly, the Inland area loss of 11% in the number of units sold during October, is inexplicable. But then, much of what we’ve experienced in the time of Covid has been lacking in explanation. For good or bad, we’re adapting to dramatic shifts in the world.

By comparison to Palos Verdes, the Beach which has been losing sales volume since mid year, turned up for the month, increasing the number of homes sold by 4%.

The chart shows the Harbor area having the greatest variance in month-to-month sales numbers during the first half of the year. Since June the shifts have been more gentle.

Median Price – Down Everywhere

October brought a decline in the median price of sold homes in all four segments of the market. The Beach Cities dropped another 7% this month, after having fallen 3% last month.

From a broad perspective, two things are happening. The mundane answer is the time of year. It’s fall and it’s often possible to get a better deal in fall or winter because there are fewer buyers competing in the market. The size of these percentages imply there are more than seasonal reasons.

A more exotic explanation involves the underlying motivation for the steep increases in price from May of 2020 to June of this year. Those prices were reactions to the low interest rates combined with a persistent shortage of available homes. Bidding wars drove prices up at rates that aren’t sustainable. Forecasts call for as much as a 15% overall increase in median prices at the end of the year. A typical year will be closer to 4% inflation, so as mortgage interest rates increase (they’re over 3% as I write this) we’ll have downward pressure on prices.

At the same time, Federal loan forebearance related to Covid ended September 30. Nationwide projections indicate approximately 17% of owners who were in forebearance are currently unable to make payments and don’t have a plan. Another 7% have a plan. They plan to sell. Nationally, we could see 20% of a million homes added to the inventory in coming months.

Locally, we’ve seen a handful of pre-foreclosure and foreclosure properties come on the market. Currently there are 4 Active, and 8 In Escrow, with 13 Sold in the past six months.

All of which is to say we forecast a correction in prices.

Total Sales Dollars – A Big Dive for PV

Look at the yellow line in the chart below! October saw a noticeable drop in Palos Verdes volume. Here, we see that convert to a sharp decline in cumulative sales dollars. A drop in median prices from September to October multiplied by a decline in the number of hones sold resulted in a $150M drop in total sales for the month. By comparison, the other areas showed mixed results, with moderate numbers.

This is a good time to remind readers that these four broad categories we use for this analysis are defined by the type of housing predominantly found in the area. As a matter of geological necessity, there are fewer homes at the Beach and on the Hill than there are Inland, or in a Harbor city. Probability dictates that we occasionally have statistical results that look dramatic, but are simply an anomaly resulting from the small number of homes we’re dealing with in any given month.

The Summary

We expect 2021 to leave us with a solid real estate market, albeit with some correction to inflated median prices, The October vs. September numbers clearly show some price resistance. Sales volume is mixed, showing some hesitance to buy on the Hill or Inland. The Beach Cities and Harbor areas both still show ready, willing and able buyers.

We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful Holiday Season!

Main photo by Julianne Takes Photos on Unsplash

September 2021 Real Estate – LA South Bay

Sales Volume Mixed, Down at Beach

Compared to last month, overall sales increased slightly. The chart below shows that since March the number of units sold has remained relatively stable. Sales at the Beach were down 10% in September, while all other areas of the South
Bay registered increases.

The number of Palos Verdes homes sold in September shows a strong 10% growth above August after remaining flat through the summer. That volume increase on the hill was over-shadowed by a 12% increase in the Inland cities. Sales volume in the Harbor area was nearly flat with only a 1% increase in activity.

Sales Prices Up in the Harbor

While the number of homes sold was low at the Harbor, median prices there increased the most of the South Bay. Harbor area prices in September were up 5% from the prior month. Prices on the PV peninsula rose by 3% as did prices in the Inland cities.

The Beach cities dropped into negative territory on pricing as well as volume. Median sold prices at the Beach were down 3% from August.

Looking back over the year, it’s interesting to note that the Inland and Harbor area home prices have remained close to level all year. Both areas have shown modest increases of about $100K, attained gradually over the year. By comparison, the median sales price in Palos Verdes jumped nearly $400K before levelling off in April. Similarly, median prices at the Beach climbed about $200K before stabilizing in May.

Area Sales Dollars Climbing in PV

Homes sales in the Palos Verdes cities increased in both sales volume and median price. Combined those increases catapulted the September sales dollars for peninsula properties upward by over $50M. This results from a trend we’ve been watching this year where median PV home prices are out-pacing Beach homes by $200K-$300K every month.

This is a change in the norm. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, median prices were close between homes sold at the Beach and those sold on the Peninsula. PV home prices were usually higher, but not always, and not by very much. In 2019, before the pandemic, PV and Beach median prices were nearly the same, with PV often having the higher number.

Statistics – by Month, by Year

We continue to ignore the comparison between the current month in 2021 versus the same month in 2020. The pandemic influenced statistics are too far from normal to show meaningful relationships. The current month versus last month is impacted also, though to a lesser extent. For example, monthly increases of 10%-19% in median price bespeak runaway inflation. Similarly, increases of 5% every month are not reasonable, nor are they sustainable.

We’ve had questions about median price versus average price–which is better and why. We use median, which is halfway between the highest and the lowest sale. Being at the exact midpoint tends to give a more accurate picture of the whole market, as opposed to an average, which can be more easily skewed by an abnormally high or low sale.

Pricing – The Highs and the Lows

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that some neighborhoods are expensive and some are inexpensive. While that can be true of smaller geographic areas, most larger areas have a healthy amount of price variance in the available housing. Below we’ve included the highest and lowest rounded sale prices in the four broad areas we review.

Area
Beach
Harbor
Palos Verdes
Inland

Low Sale
$475K
$200K
$470K
$300K

High Sale
$16.5M
$2.6M
$9.0M
$2.3M

The prices shown are the extremes as recorded on TheMLS as of the third day of the month. We allow three days for agents, brokerages and the various multiple listing services to update records before we start our analysis.

One observation jumps off the page immediately. The variance in price is much more dramatic at the high end. The range among areas at the low end is from about $200K to $475K, a spread of $275K. Expressed in percentages, the high price is 237% above than the low.

At the upper end, the variance in price ranges from $2.3M to $16.5M, a spread of $14.2M. This time, expressed in percentages, the high price is 717% higher than the low.

So, what does $200K buy in the South Bay? This time it was a one bedroom, one bathroom “fixer” condo in downtown Long Beach. On the ground floor, with 580 square feet of space.

And $16.5M brings you six bedrooms, with seven bathrooms in 5715 square feet, a three car garage, a dedicated home theatre, and stunning ocean views from the Manhattan Strand.

Main Photo by Joseph Ngabo on Unsplash

July South Bay Real Estate Slows – Takes Back Prices

Even with mortgage interest rates under 3% the July market had a hard time keeping momentum. March looked like a game changer, but May went soft. Total dollar sales were up in June but by July prices and sales volume were both headed down again.

So what’s going on here? Sales are yo-yoing across the charts like the economy can’t make up it’s mind. Are we leaving a pandemic or entering one? Banks have started raising the interest rates multiple times. Each time buyers walk away and the rates come down again.

The Coronavirus pandemic has been so pervasive most of us haven’t noticed there is a concurrent recession happening. One pundit I follow recently referred to it as a “two month recession–the shortest in history.” That’s a great punch line, but highly mis-leading. Real estate is a long term business proposition, not an impulse buy.

That’s part of the reason forecasting is so challenging this year. The statistics we would normally compare are last year versus this year. To do so is meaningless in today’s situation because last year was anything but normal and the result of a comparison makes no sense. To demonstrate, this table shows the comparison from this month to last month of the current year, and from last month of the current year to the same month last year.

Is the market good? Or just looking good?

Notice that comparing June to July of 2021, nearly every statistic is negative. Quantity sold was up 3% for the Inland cities, but down in all other areas. Prices were flat in the Harbor area, but down in all other areas. Looking just at the current stats, it looks like a slowing market.

However, it’s easy to portray everything as rosy when you only compare 2021 activity to 2020 activity. Reading it that way, sales volume is down 2% at the Beach, but volume and pricing are up in big numbers everywhere else. For those readers who like to study punditry, watch the authors you read to see who compares both ways, versus who only talks about positive numbers.

Sales volume flat last four months

By March of this year, all areas took a big jump upward in the number of units sold. The Harbor area, which is often the most friendly to first time buyers, took the biggest jump increasing from roughly 350 units per month to nearly 500 units per month.

Since March the number of units sold has remained stubbornly flat across the South Bay. The Harbor area showed strong activity, recovering almost immediately from a sharp dip in May.

Prices flat last four months

More accurately, Beach prices have been flat the last three months after a $100K jump in May. Inland and Harbor prices have seen very little change since the first of 2021. PV moved upward from January through April, picking up about $400K in median price appreciation. Since then the Hill has also been stable.

Usually more stable than the Beach or the Hill, the median Inland prices have remained very close to their starting point in January. Harbor area prices have bumped up about $100K since the first of the year. We see some of that in appreciation related to retail growth and renewal in San Pedro. On the Long Beach side, we’ve seen good appreciation in the first time buyer community and in the 1-4 rental community.

In summary, real estate in the Los Angeles Suth Bay is on the mend. Don’t mistake that for astronomical growth. We’re getting back to where we were and leveling out.

Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

LA County Real Estate: Heading for $2T

Total Assessed Value = $1.76 Trillion

Before we get into the run-of-the-mill analysis of real estate, let’s look at the real estate market in South Bay from a different perspective. We’ve been using a microscope to zoom in on the details of sales volume and median price in various locations, etc. Pretty traditional stuff.

For a couple paragraphs, let’s zoom out and look back at what has happened to the LA South Bay market over the past few years. I want to take a moment to acknowledge my friend James Allen for prompting me to do some research and analysis along this vein. James is editor and publisher of Random Lengths News in the Harbor area. We trade thoughts occasionally about one aspect or another of local real estate and economy. Earlier this month he asked me what I thought about the recently announced 2021 property rolls for Los Angeles County.

Thank you for asking, James.

Let’s start by saying the primary task of the County Tax Assessor is to establish every year a value for all the property subject to tax in the county. This year the Assessor has given the total value of LA County property as $1.76 trillion.

Not knowing what to expect, first I pulled in the immediately available data from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s new web site. (I noted a couple of inconsistencies along the way, but given the relative size I decided to consider them rounding errors.) I pulled data back to 2006, which includes the “Great Recession.” The result is shown here and discussed below.

This chart shows the total assessed value, before exemptions, of all property assessed in Los Angeles county. It’s a snapshot in time, taken mid-year corresponding with the tax assessment year. The county has had a steady upward climb with the exception of a flat spot and a shallow trough following the Great Recession during 2007-2008. Taxes are paid in arrears, so the losses didn’t show up until about 18 months later. It took that long to work through the system and show up as a $20B drop in 2010, and then stretch into 2011 and 2012.

The loss of property values following the lending collapse is appears surprisingly shallow. Looking closer at the detail, we see that two of the three primary property value categories offset much of the decline in Single Family Residential (SFR) category. Residential Income (ResInc) values increased .3% and Commercial/Industrial (Comm) values increased .7%, while SFR decreased 1%.

The pattern since 1975 has been that each year the Residential Income category (that’s 5 or more residences in one complex) is stable and brings in about 14% of real property tax revenue. In 1975 ResInc represented 13.5% of real estate values in the County. In 2020 it represented 13.9% of the County value.

The Commercial/Industrial category, which deals in the sale/manufacture of products, has a slightly decreasing percentage of the tax revenue each year. In 1975 Comm property represented 46.6% of taxable real estate value in the County. By 2020 it had declined to 29.2%, about a 17% tax savings for business.

The Residential category represents single family homes and residential complexes of 2-4 units. Commonly termed Residential 1-4, this category has borne an increasing share of the tax burden since 1978. In 1975 SFRs represented 39.9% of taxable real estate in the county. By 2020 homeowners were paying 56.9% of the County’s real property taxes, about a 17% tax increase for homeowners.

Another interesting thing is the strong similarity between 2009 and 2021 relative to the surrounding history. Both years show the market rolling up to the top of the chart, and then taking a slight dip. If 2022 follows the same pattern we should be looking at 12-18 months of flat market followed by several years of steady appreciation.

We do want to be careful here to recognize that there will be adjustments after the fact. Some of these numbers may be changing for years as errors are discovered. Historically, those late changes seldom have a measurable impact.

June 2021 Total Dollars Sold

Continuing the trend of recent months, total sales dollars for residential real estate in the Los Angeles South Bay went up in every area. We saw the slowest growth in the Inland Cities which remained nearly level with dollar volume from May.

As usual, the Beach and the Hill had the steepest growth incline on the charts. Overall sales activity has been showing strength in the harbor area. Smart money would consider the future potential from both a residential perspective, which is the primary zoning of both San Pedro and Long Beach, but also from the Commercial/Industrial perspective. The Harbor area has one of the largest concentrations of manufacturing in Southern California.

June 2021 Inventory is Rising

June enjoyed a larger inventory of available homes in the South Bay than we’ve seen recently. Earlier this year the shortage of property on the market had reduced listings to as little as two weeks of inventory in some areas.

Active listings right now show that if we stopped listing homes today, all available properties in the Inland cities would be sold within 21 days. That’s a far cry from a normal inventory of 5-6 months, but is better than the 1-2 weeks we’ve been seeing. Similarly, inventory levels are up to 24 days in the Harbor area, 30 days in the Beach Cities and 32 days on the peninsula.

As the inventory climbed, June saw a sizable increase in sales. Back in May, every area recorded declining sales, not because no one wanted to buy, but because not enough people wanted to sell. The chart below shows a healthy increase in volume nearly everywhere. Sales dropped a mere 1% in the Inland cities and were up as much as 16% at the Beach.

Median Prices are Stabilizing

Let’s face it. Society cannot afford prices that climb 10+ percent in a month. Those are numbers that bespeak failing economies. So, watching South Bay prices level off on the chart below is a good thing. To put perspective on the matter, housing prices traditionally tend to rise at about 4% per year.

June brought some relief in that the steepest price increase was 5% on the Hill, closely followed by the Harbor area at 4%. (Keep in mind that the Palos Verdes peninsula is a very small market area and subject to more vacillation than the other, larger markets.) The Beach came in with no increase in prices and the Inland cities showed a restrained 1% increase.

Photo by Jingming Pan on Unsplash

LA South Bay Real Estate in a Post-Pandemic World

It’s official. We’re now in the post-pandemic phase. So what’s the real scoop on local real estate? Follow along as we review the May statistics and tease you with a little early June data.

Putting Statistics in Perspective

The first thing we want to do is remind everyone that in the first three months of the pandemic, the number of sales in the Los Angeles South Bay had dropped to approximately 50% of 2019 activity. So, when we say sales are up 100% from last year, what we’re really saying is that sales volume is pretty much back to normal. That is, “normal” in 2019.

Similarly, the fact all areas show higher sales prices than 2020 is relatively meaningless. We can only look to recent months or pre-pandemic statistics for market indications. We’ll get into more detail below, but remember that comparisons of 2020 to the Great Recession can be misleading.

Median Price Climbs: Everywhere

The median price in May of this year is shown in the chart below. Because 2020 wasn’t very meaningful in terms of normal real estate activity, we pulled up 2019 statistics. Respectively, the median price is up from 2019 by 25% at the Beach, 20% in the Harbor, 18% in PV and 16% Inland. That’s more than a healthy increase in prices for two years of appreciation. We can see from the charts there was some rapid inflation the first quarter of the year. More so at the Beach and in PV than elsewhere. Probably we’ll see some of that taken back as the market cools.

What we’re not talking about is what part of the market is selling? High? Low? Let’s look at the sales volume to find the hot spot in the market.

Sales Volume Starting to Smooth

The number of home sales per month across the South Bay has just about returned to normal. Sales in May 2020 were off by 45%-55% across the board from 2019. Now, comparing May of 2021 to 2019 we find that the Harbor cities have had virtually zero change in the number of sales. By contrast, the Beach shows 2% more sales, the Inland cities 5% growth in sales, and Palos Verdes 19% growth.

Two things stand out for me. The two year lack of growth in sales volume for the Harbor cities tells me the pandemic hit those cities the hardest. The recovery there will lag behind the rest of the South Bay offering some opportunity for those ready to buy now.

The second hot spot is 19% growth in sales volume on the Palos Verdes peninsula. Looking over the actual sales, I’ve concluded it’s simply that there are far fewer homes on the Hill, so minor change in sales statistics can look like a major fluctuation.

Total Sales Down Across the South Bay

Our chart below shows the total sales dollars climbing out of a winter slowdown that was accentuated by the pandemic. All areas rose uniformly in March and April of this year ending in May just about where they were the prior fall. June results will give us a better picture, but we expect a gradual leveling as inventories grow.

As of now, activity indicates that the peak of recovery from the pandemic is passing by us right now. Things should level out over the summer leaving us with a statistically somewhat normal sales year.

South Bay Summary

Across the South Bay we’re seeing a moderation of the wide swings and extreme numbers generated throughout the pandemic. For example, monthly March sales volume for all areas was up 57% over the prior month. By the end of April volume was only up by 6%. For May it was down -8%. Taking a peek at sales to date in June, it should be at -2% next month.

What we’re watching is the panic leaving the marketplace and stability returning. Pent-up demand earlier this year pushed property prices up as much as 14% on a month-to-month basis. While still steep, the high for May was 10%. Our forecast for June price increases in SoBay is a high of 9%, with a low of 0%.

At the moment there is little indication prices will move into negative territory beyond losing some of the rapid inflation of recent months. That may change as moratoriums on eviction and foreclosure dissipate. Currently slated to end September 30, 2021, some fear that the end of local moratoriums will release a flood of foreclosures and cause prices to plummet.

Locally, Los Angeles county and city have offered several alternative plans to minimize the impact. In some cases the entire debt may be covered by combined State, Federal and local government funds, completely rescuing both the tenant and the landlord from housing loss. As a result, many in the industry expect prices and activity levels to return to approximately where they were prior to the pandemic.

We believe the level of inventory will be nearly normal by this fall. Already we see offer prices declining and Average Days On Market (ADOM) stretching past 30 days for 15-20% of available homes. Following the usual slowdown for the holiday season, we predict a robust January in 2022 as the pandemic becomes a fading memory.

Judging from the downturn in May, we’re now returning to a more normal market. So, logically speaking, homes listed in June and later should come on the market at slightly lower prices. Our expectation is for area median sales to fall back by approximately $175K in the Beach and Harbor areas, with a decline of about $100K for PV and Inland area sales.

Cover photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

April 2021 Real Estate Surprises

As we discussed in this column last month, comparative analysis of real estate between “the year of Covid” and any other year will be relatively meaningless. Starting in August we may have something approaching useful data in the year-over-year category. Until then, the best guidance will come from the month-to-month numbers and paying close attention to buyers and sellers.

The Beach cities is a great example. A 2020-to-2021 comparison of March sales shows an increase of 136%. Compare that to the March-to-April decrease of 2% and we immediately see the dramatic difference. The table below shows how huge the difference is. The year-0ver-year statistics are all skewed way to the high side because there were significantly fewer sales in 2020 than in a normal year.

April 2021 LA So Bay residential sales stats

Moving on to the monthly statistics, let’s look at how the year is shaping up. There was a minor decrease of-2% in the quantity sold at the Beach last month. The rest of the South Bay showed increased sales, with the inland cities showing a big bump up, in addition to a lower median sales price.

Entry level buyers who can now afford to become home owners, due to pandemic stimulus interest rates, make up a big part of those added sales. Another sizable component is made up of investors who can make cash offers, then leverage their investment to do it again.

Slowdown in Volume of Sales

The chart below shows steep growth in the number of homes sold in all areas for March. Sales in the Harbor cities were especially strong. It looked like the bright light at the end of the Covid tunnel. But, in April we see sales level off everywhere except the inland cities. The pent up demand we spoke of last month seems to be easing already.

April 2021 LA So Bay residential sales volume chart

When the volume of sales drops off, there is typically a decline in the price point, too. So far prices have been on the ascendant. The low interest rates kept buyers in the market, and the shortage of homes drove the prices up.

Home buyers are typically most active in the months surrounding school vacation for students. No parent wants to change schools during a regular session. We’re in the month of May, and the sales stats coming out next month will give us a better picture of how much recovery we will see this summer.

Prices Level Out Across South Bay

Like the number of sales, the median prices have flattened and in some cases turned down this month. Palos Verdes homes seem to have taken a strong upward trend with a 14% jump in price. However, looking a little deeper we find there were two exceptionally large sales which combined to create an illusion in the charts. That yellow line should drop back down around $1.6M next month.

April 2021 LA So Bay residential sales median price chart

Considering the rate at which prices have been increasing over the 2020 prices, leveling off is a necessary thing. In each of the first four months of this year, home prices have escalated as much as they would in a normal year. Continuing at this rate threatens us with another “bubble” coming on the tail of Covid-19.

Total Sales Dollars Still Climbing

April 2021 LA So Bay residential total sales $$ chart

Elevated prices combined with increased sales last month to push total monthly sales dollars way up. The chart looks like everything is hunky-dory. If only we didn’t know this is growing out of the disaster we lived through in 2020.

Actually, we’ll be quite lucky if some excessive price increases are the only fallout from the pandemic. We’ve written a number of articles recently on the probability for a rash of foreclosures coming after June 30, when the prohibition of eviction and foreclosure come to an end. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you abreast of the situation as it develops.

LA South Bay Gets Hotter!

From the Beach to the Harbor, from Inland to the Hill, the month of March brought an average of 57% more home sales than February! This, after February fell 10% from January, and January was down 30% from December! It’s almost as though spring’s sunlight is breaking through a crack in the Covid wall.

Last March we were seeing healthy spring growth ranging from 8% to 29% in sales volume over the prior month. By comparison this March is in a range of from 42% to 69%. That’s a tremendous jump in sales, and it corresponds nicely with the 35% to 70% annual increase in sales over March of 2020. Rarely do we see year over year sales growth above 35% in any given area, so that level of growth across the South Bay is a strong indicator that we are coming out of the erratic market of the past year.

We need to remember that home sales recorded in March of last year were transactions initiated in February for a Close of Escrow 30 days later. The comparison we’re looking at is the last normal March sales, pre-pandemic, compared to the most recent March sales as we roll into vaccinations en masse. That means they were the final set of “normal” transactions before the Covid pandemic was declared. It also means comparing statistics for this April to last April won’t be terribly useful.

That spike in sales is the “pent up demand” we’ve been hearing about. Circumstances that create a need for people to relocate have continued throughout the pandemic. Simultaneously, sellers have been very reluctant to put their homes on the market and take a chance on contracting Covid-19 from a visiting buyer. Now that threat has diminished, so buyers and sellers are making up for lost time.

We anticipate continued froth in the form of increased prices and bidding wars for the balance of 2021. Gradually everyone will catch up with their real estate goals and things will settle down. There is a good chance most of the price increases will stay with us. That’s a plus for sellers, while buyers will only be hurt by the higher prices.

Prices Skyrocket with Pent-Up Demand

Switching our attention from sales volume to median value, let’s look at how prices have been changing. Year-over-year, the median price came in above last March in the range of 8% to 18%. This is stubbornly high compared to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 4.7% for increased housing costs in the Greater LA area during 2020. The last time annual price increases were this dramatic was just before the Great Recession.

When we look a little closer, we’re seeing some weakness in the more current sales prices. Beach and Inland areas both showed big month-to-month improvement over February of this year. The Hill had a more modest 2% increase. The single negative showing in the first quarter, Harbor prices are down -5% for March, despite rising 1% in January and another 9% in February.

As the pandemic ends, we’re seeing a lot of people trying to escape the lease trap (rental prices are going up even faster than sales prices) by taking advantage of historically low interest rates. However, rising sales prices are meeting resistance on the part of some buyers. Possibly because interest rates have starting climbing again. Possibly because the employment picture is still untenable for many.

2021_mar_med_price_chart-1

As the chart above shows, prices for the first quarter are wobbly–a little up and a little down. The Fed is trying to stimulate financial activity to pull our nation through the pandemic by keeping the overnight bank loan rate at near zero. Meantime, the investor market is smelling money and gradually hiking mortgage rates. As the mortgage interest rate edges up, more and more potential buyers are priced out of the market. The first place this shows up is in the entry level market, which is predominately found in the Harbor and Inland areas.

Real Estate for Spring / Summer??

So what’s the forecast for the hottest selling months of the year? The pundits are split about 50/50 on whether the stimulus funding will turn this into a booming economy, or when we emerge from the pandemic, we’ll run smack into a wall of recession.

There is definitely money flowing. The Beach and the Harbor areas show the steepest growth, both adding about $135M in overall sales from February to March.

Anecdotally, there’s a significant percentage of first-time buyers who are now able to qualify for a loan, because of the interest rate. That group is looking at entry level homes throughout the area. Another set of buyers is now able to buy an additional investment property to rent out, because of the interest rate. First time buyers and investors are looking at the same properties and bidding against each other.

As mentioned earlier, April 2020 is when the pandemic blew holes in the economy. Whatever April brings this year, we’ll have to find a new way of looking at it. April and May last year plummeted with drops ranging from 25% to over 50%. Comparisons to last year could be interesting, but most likely uninformative.

Main photo by Barthelemy de Mazenod on Unsplash

February 2021 Real Estate Sales – South Bay

Covid-19 has kept the South Bay real estate market in disarray for a solid year now. So when we try to compare sales activity from 2020 to 2021 we find huge swings in the data that only tell us we’ve been living in a pandemic. We’re here to try to tease some intelligence out of that data and to guide our clients through buying and selling in these tempestuous times.

Month to Month

Let’s start by looking at the number of homes sold in the South Bay for February 2021. At the macro level sales volume is down -10% below January. Of course, that ignores the fact the number of sales last month (January) was down -30% compared to December, the prior month.

That’s the macro level. We start to see the range in sales volume when we step down to an area level. Looking more closely, the number of homes closing escrow in February versus January sales ranged from a decline of -18% in the Harbor area to an increase of 10% on the Palos Verdes peninsula. Comparing sales volume for the first two months of the year very much demonstrated the old maxim about the importance of location .

February against January for median price: Dollar-wise, the Beach dropped again, but by only 1% of the median price paid in January. However, note that this follows a 12% monthly drop in January from December 2020. From that scenario we can’t tell if prices are heading up, or still coming down. In other areas, the prices increased a robust 9% each for the Harbor and PV areas. Inland cities were down by -2%.

In total dollar sales, the South Bay was off by -1% from January activity. Once again, the detail was scattered with the high at 14% for Palos Verdes and the low -16% for the Harbor.

Compared to pre-Covid, these numbers are simply freakish.

Outrageously high! Compared to pre-Covid, these numbers are simply freakish. Back in 2019 any of the percentage statistics we look at on a monthly basis would have been in the range of +/-1%, occasionally a tad more. So, instead of Harbor area prices going up 9% in a month, we would normally be talking about .9%, one tenth the amount of increase.

Year to Year

Clearly the pent up demand from the past 12 months has had some impact. That, combined with the limited supply because so few people want to move during the pandemic. There’s always the question of what percentage of the buyers are home owners as opposed to investors. From speaking to other brokers in the area, we find a large number of the transactions are all cash.”

As always, one should note that ultra-local sales numbers are small in terms of mathematical models. As such, a single sale, high or low dollar, may make percentile statistics jump into outlier ranges. Similarly, a seasonal burst, or dearth of sales can seriously skew the numbers. Based on 25+ years of local real estate experience, I can assure you this is closer to a bubble than to a season burst.

Looking at it on a year over year basis doesn’t improve the image. Still the increases in every corner of South Bay, both in the number of sales and the median price increases, are beyond rational.

Photo by Karlis Reimanis on Unsplash

2020/2021 Housing Summary & Forecast for the South Bay

The year 2020 was very nearly the least predictable time in local real estate history. Seriously, what other time have we experienced massive unemployment and rising home prices simultaneously? All indications suggest 2021 will be a tad more conventional.

Home Values Grew in 2020

Despite “turmoil” being the watchword of 2020, the year produced some remarkable results in the Los Angeles South Bay. The Beach cities recorded a 28% increase in median price for December compared to December 2019. The cost of building didn’t rise at that rate, so clearly there was a heavy investment in anticipated value. As the chart below shows, Even with all the up and down motion, during the final half of the year buyers & investors were betting heavily that things were headed for calmer, more profitable waters.

That activity was spread across the spectrum of prices, as you can see tracing the community lines shown above.

Note that May reflects the sudden market contraction from the Covid announcement the beginning of March. This is a rare moment when the chart shows how much delay there is between signing a purchase agreement, and closing escrow. In April, 30 days after the announcement of a Covid pandemic, escrows were starting to drop off and were at or slightly down from March closings. By May, 60 days later, the number of closed sales had fallen by ~50K units in each of the four market areas. It took the classic 45 day escrow period to show that the pandemic took away nearly 30% of the business in the local real estate market.

How Many Sales? Where? Why?

While the Beach and the Harbor areas fought it out for the highest total sales dollars throughout the year, the Harbor clearly enjoyed the highest number of units sold every month as we see in the chart below. While the number of sales climbed across the South Bay, at the end of the year it was the Harbor with the largest increase in sales. Starting 2020 with 315 sales in January, the number climbed consistently through the year to a strong finish with 476 in December.

Two factors play into the volume of Harbor area sales. Part is the sheer number of homes in what is physically a larger area. The more interesting aspect of Harbor area sales increasing while the rest are relatively flat is the reason.

Homes in the Harbor cities are lowest priced in the South Bay by about $100K. Interest rates are currently running below 3%, and it’s in the lowest price points of the market where low interest rates are most effective. The low rates mean more buyers can afford to purchase at the same price point, on the same income stream. The larger number of buyers competing creates multiple offers and drives the price higher, which is a major factor pushing the market today. If we are to believe the Federal Reserve Bank, current interest rates are expected to remain historically low for the foreseeable future. The demand should hang around for just about as long.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

In the chart below, it’s interesting to note that the Inland and Harbor cities progress across the months with stability and only a slight change from beginning to end. At the same time, the Beach and PV cities gyrate through the year, sometimes with $200K jumps from one month to the next. One is tempted to say it’s the comparative size of the market area, but the Inland cities have very nearly the same number of homes as the Beach cities.

This difference is often thought of as reflecting the nature of the home buyer in these communities. Looking at stereotypes, it’s easy to imagine an owner in Torrance or Long Beach, for example, who buys in their early twenties and doesn’t move again until retirement–very stable. In the Beach and PV price ranges, where a home is often considered more as an investment vehicle than a residence, it’s easy to see where market forces can result in sudden changes to where one lives.

Moving From 2020 to 2021

The beginning of 2021 marked the end of some of the more impactful aspects of 2020. A ferocious political battle is ended, and a new Federal administration looks inclined to use “all the available tools” to bring our collapsed economy back on line quickly. Time will tell how much that helps us here in the South Bay.

The ever-changing story of the international pandemic may be coming to an end with the approval of multiple vaccines for Covid-19. Rumors still abound as to the actual efficacy of the drugs, and rates of infection are still climbing dramatically, especially here in Los Angeles county. It will end, whether sooner or later. The big question today is if the price increases we’ve seen as a result of bidding wars will sustain as the pandemic eases and government assistance is strengthened.

Looking at December activity, we see big increases in sales volume for Month over Month (M-M) and Year over Year (Y-Y) statistics. A continuance of this trend could make 2021 an exceptional year for real estate in the South Bay.

Median prices show a large variation from area to area, and importantly show a slowdown in the climbing prices. Y-Y price growth was strong in December, reflecting the high demand at current interest rates. However, M-M prices predominantly showed a reversal in price growth. Some of the slowdown could be seasonal, but if you’ve been reading our blog posts you already know there’s a growing backlog of homes poised on the edge of foreclosure. The only thing preventing a mass of short sale and foreclosure properties on the market is the forbearance rules put in place to prevent a sudden jump in homelessness during the pandemic.

Beach

December activity in Beach cities showed insane growth for M-M and Y-Y sales, both in the the number of sales, and especially in the prices of sold homes.

As if annual growth of 28% in median price wasn’t crazy enough, look at that monthly increase of 18.2%! Annualized, that would be over 114% growth! Statistics with this much reach can only be attributed to a profound belief that prices will continue to increase at a similar rate. Or, continue until the property can be flipped, that is.

Palos Verdes

Palos Verdes in December was almost a reverse image of the Beach cities. The explosive growth in PV came in the number of home sales which shot up 18%, bringing the annual number to a phenomenal 42% growth in volume for the year.

Median prices in PV showed modest increases, ending the year only slightly higher than the Fed’s target growth rate. The shift from positive growth to shrinkage in December hints at an overall market trending toward lower median sales prices.

A side note: Homes on the hill have not maintained the “investment quality” image of those on the Beach. PV was once considered the place to buy a home from a prestige angle and from an investment perspective. New money moving into the Beach cities has diminished that role in recent years. I predict a rebirth of property values in the Palos Verdes cities over the next few years, which will make having a home on the peninsula key in local business and society.

Inland

For the most part, Inland homes are family homes. They are the places with hoops in the driveway and lemonade stands at the sidewalk. Investment here is a long term concept.

So, when we see over 20% M-M growth in number of homes sold accompanied by nearly 30% Y-Y, we’re seeing market movement rather than shifts in investment strategy. As it is throughout South Bay, the cause of that movement appears to be the sub-3% interest rate which enlarged the entry level market segment. More buyers flooding in created bidding wars and drove sales and prices higher.

Compared to last December, median prices in the Inland cities were up 5.5%, peaking at $733K. That’s a good healthy increase, only slightly above the expected Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers. Caution though–the M-M median is down 2.3%. It could be a momentary blip; a result of the holiday season, or the Covid surge. That year end drop may also indicate that the $750K median from November is the market ceiling.

Harbor

In addition to the largest home sales volume in the South Bay, the Harbor area boasts the most entry level homes. There’s a good deal of lifestyle overlap with the Inland cities, to be sure. The Harbor dramatically displays the same message we see across most of the South Bay. Everything was going strong until December, then buyers put the brakes on.

Today’s environment in the Harbor points the direction to the future. Sales here had a stronger growth than the Inland cities over the months leading up to December, and show a more pronounced decline in December.

Some of the slowdown will ultimately prove to be driven by the holiday, and some the election, and some by the pandemic. Even then, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that some of the decline is a recession held back by a thin wall of regulations temporarily preventing foreclosure and eviction.

We can certainly hope for better news from the new year, but as of the end of 2020 many of our indicators are calling for a deeper recession in coming months. It’s possible. Somewhere in the range of 20%-40% of homeowners are in forbearance now, and a roughly equivalent number of tenants are building up deferred rent payments. If adequate measures are taken to protect both sides of the debt, all of this will amount to footnote in history. Otherwise, it’ll be the second worldwide recession in this generation.

Photo ‘Work From Home’ by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Prices Rise Despite Pandemic

South Bay Sales, November 2020

Quite a year! Soon we’ll have to do a wrap-up on 2020. But, for today it’s going to be November 2020 versus last year, (November 2019) and versus last month (September 2020).

Let’s start with the big numbers. Over all, total sales in the Los Angeles South Bay for November came in at just shy of $880M, 9% off from September. One could easily consider that drop a seasonal variation as we move into the cold months.

Compared to November 2019, total sales dollars for the combined areas of the South Bay were up 25%. Much of that is making up for sales that didn’t happen during the confusion of the first shutdown this year. Now that things are more stable, we’re seeing a lot more come on the market. Nearly everything coming on the market is selling, and at good prices.

Harbor

The star of the month is the Harbor area with a 42% year over year improvement in sales dollars. Units sold were up 26% Y-Y and median sales price was up 13%. This is a big boost for the San Pedro-Carson-Long Beach area. The increased action and the increased price, outpaced the rest of the South Bay by huge margins.

Generally speaking, the Harbor cities have entry level homes. Those are being bid up dramatically by buyers who newly qualify for purchase loans because mortgage interest rates are now down in the 2-3% range. I suspect there are more than a couple of investors are mixed in there, too.

Palos Verdes

The Palos Verdes peninsula presents an anomaly this month. November compared to October universally shows a seasonal decline in the 1-10% range, but PV dropped 27% in dollar volume. Looking deeper we see the M-M median sales price has dropped by 13%, while neighboring areas have remained within 1-2% of last month’s median price. Monthly sales volume also plummeted by 15% versus an average of 4% down for other areas.

Year over year values are all in line with the rest of the South Bay, by PV seems to be taking a beating from the pandemic.

Beaches

The Beach, by comparison to PV and the Harbor, had a boring November. Volume was down from October by 9% and median price off by 2%. Total dollar sales fell from October by 9%. The numbers are within seasonal expectations, but any time Beach prices fall off more than neighboring areas, it’s a cause of concern. The Beach tends to be a precursor to future changes in the South Bay.

Looking at 2020 over 2019, the number of sales was up 1% and median price was up 3%, leaving a tidy 11% increase in Y-Y total dollars sold. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, those rock-bottom interest rates are making sales happen faster than last year.

Inland

Inland cities sales volume for November dropped off from last month by 3%. Median sales price declined a mere 1%, while total sales dollars were off by 3%. These are minor drops in light of seasonal impact, showing a strong market even as we go into the winter months.

Looking back to last year, the Torrance-Gardena-Lomita area showed more than respectable growth. Sales volume was up 12% over 2019. Median price was up 10%. Those increases created a total sales dollar increase of 25% above last year.

Not bad for being in a pandemic. Existence of a vaccine should relieve the fear keeping many people away from buying and selling during the coming months. The Federal Reserve Bank has indicated that interest rates will stay down for another 12-24 months. Everything points to a growing confidence over the winter and a booming market in the spring.

The High and the Low

The Los Angeles South Bay is a very diverse set of communities. To show you the breadth of that diversity, let’s take a quick look at the highest priced sale for November, versus the lowest priced sale.

On The Strand in Manhattan Beach a 6025 sq ft house on a double width lot of 6927sf sold for $17,750,000. The listing agent bills this property as a perfect opportunity to build a world class home of over 11,500sf of living space. The sold price per square foot of residence is $2,946.

On Ackerfield Ave in Long Beach a one bedroom one bathroom condo of 641sf sold for $205,000. Per the listing agent the home boasts a community pool and laundry facility, with one carport plus storage. The sold price represents a rate of $319 per square foot.