Home prices fluctuate constantly, but have certainly been on an upward trend the past few years. In fact, it may not be quite as noticeable, but they’ve been trending upwards for about a decade. The difference is that the upward trend has occurred at an anomalous rate since 2019. But now, we’re starting to see hints that this isn’t going to continue. Currently, home prices are still high; however, sales volume has been dropping for the past four months, which will naturally lead to price drops.
On its own, rising home prices isn’t the problem; the issue is that they have been rising far quicker than wages. Even a period of flat home prices at their current high level would provide some slight respite to homebuyers, though of course they would benefit more from declining prices. Sellers aren’t going to be as happy in the next few years, especially if they bought recently. If they bought before 2019, they may still be able to sell at a profit, but not as much of one as if they had already sold by now. Without knowing how much prices are going to drop, there’s a risk of negative equity for homes purchased within the past three years, with the risk increasing the more recently it was purchased. If the downward cycle is particularly long or the decrease particularly steep, this could even extend to homes purchased much earlier.
Renting out your home, especially for a short period, can seem like a simple way to turn a profit without much effort. However, there’s a fair bit that goes into getting the home ready to be rented out. Just like if you were selling your house, you need to make sure there’s interest, which means making a good impression on potential renters.
The easiest way to do this is by repainting your home, which is something you’d probably do if you were selling as well. It may even be more important when renting, though, especially if you aren’t going to allow your tenants to repaint. Buyers may think they’re just going to repaint anyway, so they don’t care what color the walls are. But with tenants, you want to be sure to choose neutral colors that won’t offend anyone’s aesthetic.
You should also be sure that all the legal details are worked out. You may feel the desire to skip the middleman, but that’s not a good plan. A real estate agent will help draft a lease that protects both you and the tenant. Property management companies remove much of the headache of being away from the property. Regular maintenance can often be left to property management companies. That said, if the house is not in good condition from the outset, tenants won’t be interested enough to sign a lease. Make sure to take care of repairs before you start.
The aftershocks of the Great Recession are already here. We’re currently in the midst of a second, undeclared recession, albeit a less severe one. The lower severity doesn’t necessarily mean lower impact, though. Government assistance is what pushed us through the Great Recession, and that’s unlikely to occur again.
A recession doesn’t have to mean a market crash, but it’s a very real possibility. Some areas are at higher risk of a crash than others. The highest risk metros are those with high loan-to-value ratios, home flipping, new residents, and rapid home price growth. In California, these metros are Riverside, Sacramento, Bakersfield, San Diego, Stockton, and Fresno. Those aren’t the only areas that may be affected, though. Market problems in any one area will also cascade to other regions.
In heated markets, it’s difficult for buyers to negotiate prices down, since their competition will likely be offering more. Now that the market has begun to cool, buyers are looking for ways to pay less. The answer is greater scrutiny of home defects — not to avoid purchasing defective homes, but to reduce the home’s value so they can offer less for it.
Sellers are always required to disclose any significant defects or malfunctions they are aware of in a large range of categories. These categories are walls, windows, ceilings, doors, floor, foundation, insulation, driveways, roof, sidewalks, fences, electrical systems, plumbing, and sewer or septic systems. While it can be difficult to prove that a seller was aware of a defect and the notion that it’s significant is subjective, it’s good advice for the seller to disclose anything they know. Since there’s a high chance something will have to be disclosed, buyers are jumping on the chance to leverage this to negotiate a lower sale price.
When a homeowner sells the home they live in, their most common move is to use the proceeds to buy a replacement property, if they haven’t already done so. While it seems like homeowners would always remain homeowners, it does happen that people transition from homeownership to renting. But in most cases, the seller has decided to sell high and then rent for a short time while waiting for prices to bottom out. This is called timing the market.
This is not what’s happening now. Home prices and mortgage rates are both high, which is pricing homeowners out of their current home — and pricing 80% of them out of the market entirely. They aren’t waiting for a better time to buy; they’re simply no longer able to afford ownership. They become renters by necessity. Fortunately for people in such a predicament, it may not last too horribly long, though certainly longer than they would have wanted. It’s expected that prices will reach bottom around 2025.
Conventional wisdom is that it’s more financially sound to buy a house than rent, if you can afford to do so. However, this may not be entirely true anymore. While house prices and rent prices are both increasing, house prices are increasing at a much higher rate. The gap between mortgage payments and rental payments increased from $25 in April 2021 to over $800 a year later. This difference is the highest in over 20 years. Unless you’re planning to live there for over thirty years, you’re probably better off renting. Importantly, this is based on a down payment of 5%, which is significantly lower than the commonly recommended 20%, but many buyers may not be able to afford a 20% down payment.
This won’t be permanent, but it could last several years. Home price growth has already started to lessen, but interest rates are high right now. Prices aren’t expected to be at a low until around 2025. Increased construction could aid in further reducing home prices. Given that we’re seeing the the beginnings of another recession, though, that probably won’t happen until a couple years after prices bottom out. Even after a return to normality, California is still going to have a lot of renters. With many lower-income workers permanently priced out of buying, the state has consistently had the first or second lowest homeownership rate of any state, frequently swapping places with New York.
With high interest rates, more and more buyers are beginning to realize they can no longer afford to buy, or would prefer to buy something less expensive. Sometimes this moment of realization hits them after they’ve already signed a purchase agreement, and now they want to back out. This is entirely legal, but does come with some potential costs.
When prices are increasing, breach of contract isn’t a huge deal, but can annoy sellers who have to delay their home’s sale. But when prices are decreasing, as is beginning to happen now, sellers have more to lose. Which is why they have a few different options to remedy the situation: they can enforce the purchase agreement, relist their property, or just withdraw the listing and wait for a better time. If the seller chooses to relist, they may be entitled to compensation from the buyer who breached contract. If the profit from the sale after relisting is less than what it would be given the original contract amount, the amount of the buyer’s deposit that would be returned to them is decreased by the amount of the seller’s losses. There may be cases in which there was an agreed-upon limit to this amount, in which case the agreed-upon limit is used, plus an interest rate of 10%.
A certain element of the homebuying process that sometimes crops up, especially in competitive markets, is the homebuyer love letter. This isn’t actually a declaration of love, except possibly for the home they’re trying to buy. A love letter is simply a personalized note included with an offer in an attempt to connect to the seller on an emotional level. Sellers respond to this variously, and may simply ignore them if they’re receiving them constantly.
But the major issue with love letters isn’t the question of their effectiveness. The problem is why they have the ability to be effective. If a seller has a reaction to a love letter — whether positive or negative — and uses this in their decision of which offer to select, it means they’re biased based on some personal detail of the buyer. Most of the information a buyer would provide doesn’t have protected status, but if it does, the seller could be sued for discrimination. Of course, it’s very difficult to prove exactly why the seller accepted one offer over another, so this rarely actually happens even if the buyer suspects discrimination. But this is exactly why some states have banned love letters, or, in the case of Oregon, are trying to ban them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While we can all agree that high prices and low inventory is not a recipe for a healthy real estate market, reversing the trend too quickly can cause issues as well. Prices are predicted to start declining towards the end of 2022 and throughout 2023 and 2024. This may be good for prospective homebuyers, but it’s not good for sellers who purchased relatively recently.
A sharp decline in prices could result in negative equity for some people looking to sell, meaning that they won’t be able to sell normally and may have to go into foreclosure. This is not the same type of recession that we’ve just experienced, but it’s a recession nonetheless. Fortunately, it’s not likely to result in a crash, since the continued low inventory is a positive for sellers. The market is expected to begin to stabilize in 2025, but not without steep economic losses.
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 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.
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.”
With mortgage rates on the rise, more and more buyers are struggling to obtain loans. Given this, an infrequently-used financing option is starting to make a comeback. Seller financing is an process in which the seller of a property offers to carry the mortgage, and the buyer will then owe the seller rather than a lender. This doesn’t have the same stringent requirements that mortgage loan approval has, so it’s much more accessible to buyers.
Seller financing tends to be attractive to buyers. Not only is it more accessible, but the interest rate is usually lower. It also doesn’t incur any fees such as loan origination fees. But why would a seller want to do this? Well, there are a couple reasons. Firstly, because seller financing is so attractive to buyers, it can improve the property’s marketability. There’s an additional benefit, though. It allows the seller to defer part of the taxes on sale profits. The seller only pays taxes on the principal as it is received. At the time of sale, they pay taxes on only the amount the buyer paid. This can include the down payment and any partial loans the buyer received.
Many homebuyers aren’t sure what to do when a home they want to make an offer on is in pending status. If you really want the home, the best thing to do is to make a backup offer. If you submit an offer normally, the seller is still contractually obligated to honor the original offer if it doesn’t fall through, even if your offer is better. But don’t get your hopes up — most pending sales carry through to completion, since it merely means that the seller has accepted an offer.
What does it mean if the sale does fall through, though? In certain situations, this could be a red flag, but in others, the problem lies elsewhere. Sometimes the home inspection reveals issues that the buyer (and possibly the seller) wasn’t aware of, which could change your mind as well. The bank could decide to cancel an unapproved short sale, which could entail more legal complications than you want to deal with. Other times, the problem was with the buyer, perhaps not being able to acquire a loan. If the issue is with contingencies that have yet to be met, the home may be listed as contingent rather than pending.
The usual effect of rising interest rates is a decrease in demand, as buyers would rather wait to lock in a lower rate. Decreased demand should then translate to lower prices, since sellers want to encourage buyers. Not so in the San Francisco Bay Area right now. Prices are still going up, and demand didn’t really go down all that much.
The culprit? A couple of factors. Most significantly, inventory is extremely low in the Bay Area. Buyers are encouraged to take opportunities where they can, since they don’t come up often. That often means paying less-than-ideal prices. Secondly, the Bay Area is generally a high-income area and already has high prices. Even with rising prices, most people able to purchase there aren’t going to be suddenly priced out. Those looking for a median-income or lower household aren’t looking in that area to begin with.
The Millennials are currently the generation that makes up most first-time homebuyers, and they’ve certainly been looking for homes with home offices so they can work from home, or extra rooms for their young kids. But there are also many Millennials that already own a home, and they’re probably aiming for the same thing. They will also want to make sure the home has a layout suitable to their needs.
For those Millennials that aren’t first-time buyers, it’s likely they’ll want to upsize. Even though they’re likely rather cash-poor due to the economic circumstances both in their early adulthood and now, some of them may have good equity in their homes because home prices are so high right now. That could help them to purchase something larger by selling their current home.
Property management is a practical field to enter if you are worried about economic stability. It’s incredibly recession proof, as housing is a necessity and therefore people will be renting properties regardless of the economic conditions. But you can’t just decide on a whim to be a property manager — it has legal requirements and best practices.
In the vast majority of cases, being a property manager requires a broker’s license. There are certain cases in which it doesn’t, but they would not apply for rental properties, which are the bulk of managed properties. If you don’t want to get a broker’s license, though, you can consider managing commercial properties, but there would still be many restrictions.
First Tuesday, a real estate journal, has assembled a Property Management 101 infographic, complete with links to articles and PDFs for additional explication. This contains more specific details about the legal requirements, other applicable laws, and market information. You can find the infographic here: https://journal.firsttuesday.us/property-management-101/82682/
Prices are still going up, as are interest rates. Despite this, the market is currently going strong. It’s unclear whether this is temporary or seasonal, or part of a larger trend, but the near future of real estate is looking fairly good.
The reason for the rate increase is a recent increase to the federal funds rate of 25 basis points. The initial announcement didn’t have an immediate effect, but later caused an increase in interest rates. This, in addition to rising prices, has contributed to a decrease in home sales. However, it’s still above pre-pandemic levels, and supply is improving, which should help keep prices in line.
Part of the reason for supply increases is increased construction. Though construction actually decreased in the Western US, it has increased elsewhere and is at its strongest since 2006. Builders remain confident despite a slight drop in confidence, from 81 to 79, due to increased costs.
The results of a November 2021 survey of real estate professionals about the 2022 forecast are in, and they’re rather split. 41% expect prices to continue to rise and 41% expect them to fall. The remaining 18% predict prices will remain about where they are. Keep in mind, though, the survey was conducted a few months ago and may not reflect experts’ current beliefs. In addition, all of those who predicted continued rise in price conceded that the rate of increase will probably be slower.
There are a few factors pointing to slowdown, whether it’s a decline or a slower rise in home prices. Interest rates are increasing, which decreases buyer demand and buyer purchasing power, pulling down prices. The job recovery is still lagging behind. Forbearance exits mean greater inventory. Even global events are threatening to destabilize the economy, and uncertain buyers makes for less frequent buyers.
We’re currently either at or approaching the top of the market, which means it’s generally not a good time to buy. Sometimes it’s inevitable, but that just means you need to be prepared for losses if you don’t keep your home long enough to gather equity. When you buy at the top of the market, your home’s value will go down before it goes up, so you’ll need to wait a while in order to sell at a profit.
If you’re an investor, don’t look at flipping right now. It’s just not going to provide the return on investment that you want, especially with construction costs being high. Instead, look at purchasing rental property, as rent prices are also on the rise. You can collect rental income now and sell much later down the line when the cycle completes itself.
April 2021 was one of the most fiercely competitive months for real estate in history, in no small part due to the pandemic frenzy. But spring is always one of the more active seasons in the real estate market, being right after the holidays. And this year is not going to be an exception.
What sparked so many bidding wars last year is high demand and low inventory, and neither of those things has changed. Inventory is still 43% below pre-pandemic levels, and there are still plenty of Millennials, as well as some Gen Z, aging into first-time homeownership. Where there is some difference is the current state of interest rates, but it’s still going to result in the same type of market. Last year, interest rates were staying low, so buyers knew it was a good time to buy. Now, interest rates are expected to increase throughout 2022. In the long term, this will reduce demand, but as long as the increases are expected and not already here, demand will go up as buyers want to take advantage of the rates before they increase.