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.

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.

Some surprises in South Bay Real Estate, 2019 vs 2020

It’s October 1, so it’s time to look at the changes in the local real estate market, both for the month and for the third quarter.

2020 has been a year for making and breaking records. Most of them have been records we truly didn’t want to even consider, like the number of pandemic deaths, and the number of unemployed. Until now, we had little reason to believe the real estate market might bring better news.

Through the first half of the year, the number of homes available on the market just kept climbing. At the same time, the number of homes selling remained stubbornly flat. Despite interest rates hovering just above zero, it seemed buyers had other things on their mind. Then in July the number of closed sales jumped 41%, while available inventory came up a tiny 7%.

Sales continued to climb in August and September, though nothing as dramatic as July. Overall, for the third quarter, unit sales were nearly double those of both, the first quarter of the year (+79%) and the second quarter (+76%).

For the first time this year, the inventory has dropped appreciably.

Comparing to last year, that huge spike in sales brought September in at 47% more sales than in September of 2019. On a quarter over quarter basis, Sales are up 23% over 2019. The red bars in the “Sold vs Available” chart above shows the climbing number of sales, with the blue bars showing the sudden drop of available inventory in September.

Not only were the number of sales climbing, but prices have continued to escalate year over year. September of 2020 showed median prices had increased 23% over September of 2019. Median prices rose 15% for the third quarter of 2020 versus the same time period in 2019.

Combined, the impact of the increased sales and increased prices brought the total dollar value of sales for September 2020 up 89% over that of September 2019. Quarter to quarter, the annual increase was 40%.

South Bay residential sales for the third quarter of 2020 exceeded two billion dollars.

How do we explain record sales and prices during a pandemic, with sky-high unemployment, and the threat of a recession coming from behind? It’ll be weeks before the pundits have sorted it all out. In the meantime, here are a couple of possible explanations.

Third quarter sales range from $285K to $10.5, so we know some of these have been entry level homes. Folks who have been priced out of the area, and because of the lower interest rate could suddenly qualify to purchase here, have jumped at it. Sales under $1M comprise 42% of the total.

At the opposite end, sales over $3M made up 9%. Once again, the interest rate makes it possible to leverage a mansion at a relatively affordable monthly payment. A lot has been said about the future worth of property compared to today’s dollar. Investing at a reduced interest rate usually contributes to a sizable profit at some future sale date.

In between, from $1M to $3M, we have 49% of the third quarter sales. That’s roughly the number of people we would expect to sell for one or another of the typical reasons people move. In fact it corresponds nicely with the rate of market activity for the first half of the year.

In summary, if the thought of making a move in the near future has crossed your mind, this may be the best moment to do so. Call and we’ll put together some numbers specific to your property and your situation. No problem–no obligation!

Photo by Richard Horne at unsplash.com.