Santa Cruz County average single family home prices eased about 3% during the 4th quarter, versus the 3rd quarter, but, prices were just 1% lower than this time a year ago. The number of homes sold was about equal to the number sold during the same time period last year. To quote my year end 2018 blog, “After consecutive years of double digit price appreciation, I consider this softening healthy for the overall housing market, although … disconcerting to home sellers. Real estate is cyclical; the last trough in prices was …in 2009. No one wants a repeat of the “great recession;’ a soft landing is preferable.” On average across Santa Cruz County, it takes about 8 weeks for a home to go into escrow with a buyer now, (“Days on Market”), a trend that’s been lengthening every quarter. Days on market was just three weeks back in early 2018.
Santa Clara County was remarkably solid, with 4th quarter average home prices easing just 1% compared to the 3rd quarter – but up 1% year over year and holding steadily at $1.5 million. The number of home sales has slowed though, while the time it takes for a home to go into escrow – has increased to about a month, compared to just two weeks back in early 2018.
San Lorenzo Valley 4th quarter average home sales prices continued the softening trend that started in the middle of 2018 after average prices at $705,000. We’re looking at about a 7% decline, spread out evenly over the last year and a half. 86 single family homes sold across the SLV, down from a recent peak of 142 in the 3rd quarter of 2017. Although multiple offers still happen, often just a few buyers are competing. On average, SLV homes sold for 98% of list price. It took about 44 days on average for homes to go into escrow last quarter – nearly two weeks longer than last summer.
Note: As you look at the price chart, keep in mind some of these micro markets (like Brookdale) have so few home sales, that percentage changes aren’t statistically significant and average prices can be dramatically skewed even when viewed over a quarter. It’s more useful to look at the San Lorenzo Valley as a whole.
Scotts Valley 4th quarter average home prices fell about 10% from the 3rd quarter because only two homes sold for over $2 million. That drop was compared to five home sales over $2 million in the 3rd quarter and seven in the 2nd quarter. About 10 fewer homes sold versus the previous two quarters.
Los Gatos mountains region 4th quarter average home prices bounced back from the 3rd quarter as I expected. The 3rd quarter had an anomaly: fewer home sales in the $1 million plus bracket plus more fixer uppers. During the 4th quarter, the region had 16 home sale prices over $1 million and 2 over $2 million.
The City of Santa Cruz saw average 4th quarter home price declines of about 6% during the 4th quarter, taking prices back to where they were in 2017. The number of homes sold declined also…city politics plays a role, but that’s beyond the scope of this review.
California’s November statewide results according to the California Association of REALTORS: median home prices fell 1.5% during the month to $589,770. Still, median prices were up a healthy 6.4% for the year: the November 2018 CA median house price was $554,240
AFFORDABLE HOMES NEAR THE SILICON VALLEY:
Since average single family home prices continue to range between $1 to $1.5 million across Santa Cruz County, Santa Clara County and the greater San Francisco Bay Area, people working in the Silicon Valley are delighted to discover affordable housing in the San Lorenzo Valley – within 45 minutes to an hour’s commute to high tech employers like Apple, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, etc.. Towns in the San Lorenzo Valley offer a more relaxed, rural lifestyle at about half the price of neighboring Scotts Valley, whose residents do enjoy more conveniences and the services of a small city. Santa Cruz home prices have been stable at just over $1 million, where residents enjoy a variety of parks, beaches, great restaurants, night life, and shopping in this city of about 60,000 residents.
These charts illustrate housing inventory over the past three years. Around six months of housing inventory is considered a market that is balanced between buyers and sellers. These graphs show that both regions continue to experience an inventory shortage of just one ½ to two months of inventory; about a month less than this time last year. That means, at the current rate of sales, we’d run out of homes for sale in just two months.
Scotts Valley has just 9 single family homes for sale (vs. 39 in the 3rd quarter & 51 2nd quarter), compared to 24 homes for sale at this time last year. San Lorenzo Valley has just 36 single family homes for sale right now, compared to 40 at this time last year. During the summer of 2019 there were around 80 homes for sale in the SLV. Santa Cruz, despite having four times the population of Scotts Valley, has 24 homes for sale (vs. 63 in the 3rd quarter & 72 in the 2nd quarter), compared to 38 at this time last year.
While some sellers take their homes off the market over the holidays and relist them in spring, creating seasonal lows every January, these graphs show that we’re is experiencing an inventory shortage 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 when the weather improves later this spring.
ECONOMY & MORTGAGES:
CoreLogic reported September’s overall mortgage delinquencies remain at their lowest rate in 20 years nationally, and foreclosures also remain at their lowest rate for 20 years. Many experts believe stricter mortgage guidelines and higher down payments over the past decade will prevent a real estate crisis when the next economic downturn occurs.
Talk of recession has become more common lately, and, some fear global forces including trade wars, political upheavals, stock markets at new highs and the fact the US economy is in its longest expansion ever. On the other hand, CoreLogic notes the number of homeowners that were underwater on their mortgage fell 10% last year. Just 3.7% of all homes have negative equity now; the average US homeowner gained over $5,000 in equity during the last year.
National economic figures: growth as measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was 2.1% during the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2019, (down from 3.1% during the 1st quarter of 2019, and level with 2.2% in the 4th quarter of 2018). Consumer price increases (a measure of inflation – something the Federal Reserve monitors closely) measured 2.1% in November (1.7% in August, 1.8% in May, 1.5% in January and considerably lower than the 2.9% in July 2018). The unemployment rate remains steady at about 3.7% (3.7% nationwide in January 2019). Wage growth was stable at a 4% rate (but down from 4.5% during third quarter 2018).
Mortgage interest rates – today the 30 year mortgage rate averaged 3.7%, providing ongoing support to the housing market. Last year at this time the 30 year average rate was 4.6%. These rates are historically incredibly low and very appealing to home buyers. Many homeowners can benefit from refinancing – consult your loan professional, or reach out to me if you need references to excellent local lenders.
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY’S APPEAL:
People from the Silicon Valley are enchanted to discover Santa Cruz County’s appeal. We have dozens of parks for hiking, mountain biking, climbing, horse-back riding, swimming, skateboarding and surfing. We enjoy so many beaches, from popular to serene, walk-in to hike-in, as well as dog-friendly Lighthouse Field State Beach. 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.) Most homes here have high speed internet, and more companies allow employees to work from home at least part of the time. 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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REAL ESTATE MARKETS ARE LOCAL:
The advice of a knowledgeable local REALTOR®, who can intelligently discuss neighborhoods and price trends, and can recommend solid local home service providers is invaluable. Hire a REALTOR® you can trust, who has enough time to dedicate to you! I will help you untangle the maze of decisions, preparations, negotiations, inspections, title and disclosures as you buy or sell your home. Relocating? I can also connect you to a trust-worthy REALTOR® wherever you’re going. My goal is to make the entire process easier to understand, less stressful, and as cost effective as possible for you.
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Sources: MLSListings.com, Reuters, California Association of REALTORs, REALTOR.org, ActiveRain.com, Mercury News, CoreLogic, FreddieMac, MortgageNewsDaily.com, Google. 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 6th 2020: MLSListings.com single family residences.