Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and San Lorenzo Valley
Real estate market update: 4th Quarter 2018
Just as I reported in the 3rd quarter, the 4th quarter trend reflected continued price softening. After consecutive years of double digit price appreciation, I consider this softening healthy for the overall housing market, although it is certainly disconcerting to home sellers. Real estate is cyclical; the last trough in prices was nearly ten years ago in about 2009. No one wants a repeat of the “great recession;” a soft landing is preferable.
As you look at the price chart, remember some of these micro markets (unincorporated areas like Lompico and Brookdale) have so few home sales, that percentage changes aren’t statistically significant and average prices can be dramatically skewed when one of the few sales exceed a million dollars. It’s more useful to look at the San Lorenzo Valley as a whole, where prices rose about 9 percent over the 4th quarter of last year. Scotts Valley rose in tandem with Santa Clara County at 13% and 14% respectively, while Santa Cruz County as a whole rose 7% for the year. Nationally, home prices appreciated just over 5% in 2018.
These charts illustrate housing inventory over the past three years. Around six months housing inventory is considered balanced between buyers and sellers. Some sellers take their homes off the market over the holidays and relist them in spring, creating seasonal lows every January. But these graphs show that each region is experiencing a continuing inventory shortage that is beyond just that seasonal pattern. So, listing a home for sale early this year might mean beating the competition when the normal rush of sellers list their homes in late spring.
At the time of this writing, San Lorenzo Valley had only 40 single family homes for sale (down from 80 last quarter but similar to the beginning of 2018). Scotts Valley has 24 homes, (down from 32 last quarter), while Santa Cruz, despite having four times the population of Scotts Valley, has just 38 single family homes for sale, (down from 68 last quarter).
As widely expected, the cost to borrow went up again in December as the Federal Reserve steered the economy by increasing Fed rates to 2.5%. Economic growth as measured by GDP fell to 3.4% in the 3rd quarter (4.2% in the 2nd quarter of 2018). Consumer price increases (inflation) fell to about 2.2% (from as high as 2.9% in July 2018). The unemployment rate declined to a very low 3.7% nationwide. Wages still haven’t increased as much as workers would hope, but are up around 4.5 – 5% this year.
Concerns of a global economic slowdown, combined with these mostly softer US numbers, may lead the Federal Reserve to slow down the rate of future interest rate increases. The yield curve (which charts the yield of T-Bills through 30 year treasury bonds) has been threatening to invert, which is often a precursor of a recession. As a result, the rate on 30 year mortgages has fallen from almost 5% back to 4.6% as of 1/4/19. Click here to see today’s 30 year fixed rate mortgages rates,
SILICON VALLEY HOMES
With an average single family home price of $1 million to $1.5 million across the Bay Area, affordability concerns continue to push people who work in the Silicon Valley to seek affordable housing anywhere within about an hour’s commute. The San Lorenzo Valley continues to sparkle with some of the most attractive prices anywhere in the greater bay area and about a 45 minute to 1 hour commute to most major employers (Apple, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Netflix…). For those who prefer a small city, Scotts Valley offers a quick commute, followed by Santa Cruz with its great beaches, shopping, night life and other amenities.
The average Santa Cruz home cost of $1.1 million could buy for example, a picturesque restored Victorian 3 bed 2 bath near downtown, or, a 2 bedroom lower westside home with a legal accessory dwelling unit midway between Mission and West Cliff. The Scotts Valley average home price of $1.3 million could buy a 4 bedroom, 3 ½ bath 15 year old home near the high school, or for a more rural experience, a 3,000 square foot 1980’s home plus guest house on 3 acres a few miles from town. The San Lorenzo Valley average home price of $685,000 could buy for example a 3 bed/2 bath home built in 2000 on about an acre about 2 miles outside of Boulder Creek, or a 2 bed/2 bath with a small studio built in the 1970’s on about 2/10 acre in Felton.
DAYS ON THE MARKET
In contrast to Santa Clara County homes, which sold on average within the first month of being listed, San Lorenzo Valley homes take on average 60 days to sell: some will sell within the first week or two, while others will take longer than a couple of months to find a buyer. At 39-40 days, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz city homes typically took 10 days longer than a Silicon Valley home to sell. Across the board, homes took about a week longer to sell in the 4th quarter of 2018 than they did in the 4th quarter of 2017.
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY’S APPEAL
People from the Silicon Valley are enchanted to discover Santa Cruz County: parks for hiking, climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and skateboarding. There are dozens of beaches, from popular to serene, walk-in to hike-in. The Santa Cruz lifestyle is informal: we cherish our slower pace. With 1/3 the population density of Santa Clara County, there’s more room to spread out in Santa Cruz County, and consequently lower stress and crime rates. (Just 440 people/square mile live here, compared to 1400 people/square mile living in Santa Clara County.) Many people say they enjoy driving through the mountains to work, versus sitting in traffic and spending a lot more money to live in Santa Clara County.
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Sources: MLSListings.com, Reuters, REALTOR.org, ActiveRain.com, Mercury News, CoreLogic, FreddieMac, BankRate.com. Month to month home sales prices fluctuate widely in small communities and cities, especially when property sales range between million dollar estates and fixer upper properties. Because of this, percentage and average price changes often aren’t statistically meaningful for short time intervals. *All stats as of January 2, 2019: MLSListings.com single family residences.