Bay Area Real Estate Market Approaches Return To Normalcy

Although trends in the Bay Area real estate market remain mixed, early signs of recovery emerged in October, when the nine-county region posted its first year-over-year gain in …

Although trends in the Bay Area real estate market remain mixed, early signs of recovery emerged in October, when the nine-county region posted its first year-over-year gain in median home prices since 2007. Increased FHA loans, increased sales of higher priced homes and a decline in the number of foreclosures also contributed to improving market conditions. See the following article from DQNews for more on this.

The Bay Area’s housing market continued to ease back toward normalcy last month as fewer distressed properties sold and $500,000-plus sales accounted for a greater share of transactions than a year ago. The result: The nine-county region posted a modest year-over-year gain in its median sale price – the first in nearly two years, a real estate information service reported.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos that closed escrow rose to $390,000, up 6.8 percent from $365,000 in September and up 4 percent from $375,000 in October 2008. The last time the median sale price rose on a year-over-year basis was in November 2007, when it gained 1.5 percent, according to MDA DataQuick of San Diego.

Last month’s median was the highest since it was $395,000 in July this year, but it was 41.4 percent below the $665,000 peak reached in June and July of 2007.

“The regional price statistics mainly reflect the fading of the foreclosures and the uptick in high-end activity in recent months,” said John Walsh, MDA DataQuick president. “Down at the neighborhood level, different things are happening depending on location, but the big picture is that prices in many areas appear to be bouncing along bottom. Whether that bottom is permanent is the subject of endless debate right now.”

In addition to the Bay Area overall, three counties – Santa Clara, Marin and Sonoma – saw their median sale prices rise year-over-year last month. The last time that more than one county posted an annual gain in the median was November 2007. Also last month, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the nine-county region overall posted single-digit annual gains in their median price paid for a specific home-type: resale single-family detached houses.

A total of 7,933 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in the nine-county Bay Area last month. That was up 0.7 percent from 7,879 in September and up 4.2 percent from 7,613 in October 2008.

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Last month’s sales were 10.2 percent below the October sales average of 8,833 since 1988, when DataQuick’s stats begin. October sales have ranged from a low of 5,486 in 2007 to a high of 13,392 in 2003. The average change in sales between September and October since 1988 is a gain of 0.9 percent.

Sales in the region’s higher-cost counties – Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo – represented 42.2 percent of October sales, up from 35.3 percent a year ago, when more sales were concentrated in the lower-cost inland areas rife with deeply discounted foreclosures. Sales over $500,000 made up 36 percent of all sales last month, up from 34.9 percent a year ago and a low this year of 22.7 percent in January.

October’s overall increase in sales from September and a year ago came even as fewer foreclosed properties sold. Foreclosure resales – homes sold in October that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – made up 31.9 percent of all resale activity. That was down from 32.3 percent the prior month and 44.0 percent in October 2008. It was the lowest since foreclosure resales were 29.9 percent of all resales in June 2008. Foreclosure resales peaked at 52 percent of Bay Area resales in February this year.

Between January 2000 and December 2007, foreclosure resales averaged only about 1 percent of all Bay Area resales each month. Since January 2008, the monthly average for foreclosure resales is about 37 percent.

The recent decline in foreclosure resales follows a generally downward trend this year in the number of homes being foreclosed on. It’s mainly because lenders and loan servicers have increasingly pursued short sales and loan modifications as an alternative to the costly foreclosure process. The declining inventory of lower-cost foreclosures has been key to stabilizing the housing market, along with the federal government’s efforts to boost housing demand through lower mortgage rates, tax incentives and plentiful, low-down-payment FHA financing.

Federally-insured FHA loans, a popular choice among first-time buyers, made up 25.9 percent of all Bay Area purchase loans last month. That was up from 24.9 percent in September, 19 percent a year ago and less than 1 percent two years ago.

Meanwhile, the availability of financing for pricier homes continued to show mild signs of improvement, but such “jumbo” loans remained relatively expensive and difficult to obtain.

Mortgages above $417,000 – formerly the definition of a jumbo loan – made up 30.1 percent of all home purchase loans last month. That was up from 29.6 percent in September and 25.9 percent a year ago. More than 60 percent of Bay Area purchase loans were over $417,000 before the August 2007 credit crunch hit.

Another fuel source for high-end sales – adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) – continues to be used far less than what’s been normal historically, but has trended higher lately. In October, 8.1 percent of Bay Area purchase loans were ARMs, up from 7.9 in September and 7.4 percent a year earlier. ARMs fell to a record low of 3.0 percent in January this year. ARMs had averaged 61 percent of the region’s purchase loans this decade up until the August 2007 credit crunch.

San Diego-based MDA DataQuick is a division of MDA Lending Solutions, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates. MDA DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts. Because of late data availability, sales were estimated in Alameda and San Mateo counties.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $1,665 last month, up from $1,578 the previous month, and down from $1,837 a year ago. Adjusted for inflation, current payments are 36.7 percent below typical payments in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. They are 53.3 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007.

Indicators of market distress continue to move in different directions. Foreclosure activity is off its recent peak but remains high by historical standards, with mortgage default notices flattening out or trending lower in some areas but edging higher in others. Financing with multiple mortgages is low, down payment sizes are stable, and non-owner occupied buying is above-average in some markets, MDA DataQuick reported.

This article has been republished from DQNews. You can also view this article at
DQNews, a real estate news and data research site.


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