Bidding wars are still common, with agents facing competition on 95 percent of all homes in May 2013, the highest of any of the markets being Bay Area.
Also-rans are left behind. The decrease in competition hasn’t changed the pricing of the most sought-after properties. But occasionally, close also-rans languish. We’ve noticed that two nearly identical Mountain View homes, one slightly better looking, sold at the same time last week: The beauty queen sold for $200,000 over asking, drawing all the attention away from its neighbor, which got only one offer and sold for $150,000 less than comparable properties in the area.
Flash sales. The fact that homes are still selling very quickly may reflect a fundamental change in consumer behavior rather than simply a hot market; the median days on market for Bay Area homes that sold in May was 12 days; last year at this time it was 18. Mobile instant alerts triggered by the debut of new listings have been behind this trend, with 302 listings in May going under contract in less than 24 hours. Some of our buyers don’t even like to go into a Costco for too long if it will block the cell signal they need to get instant alerts. This has also put pressure on real estate websites to get inventory quickly. On average, brokerage sites get listings days earlier than national portals; the reason is that the brokerage sites employ real estate agents with complete, direct access to the Bay Area’s four local Multiple Listing Services.
More homes for sale. Higher prices, and perhaps the fear that higher interest rates could dampen demand later, have at last drawn would-be sellers into the market. Bay Area inventory began the year down 59 percent from 2012, but has now improved to the point that it’s only 28 percent down from this time last year; by year-end we expect 2013 inventory to be up year-over-year for the first time since 2011. Bay Area listing business has increased more than 100 percent over last year. In 2013, real estate’s spring may come in summer, and summer may come in fall. Sales volume will increase, and price increases may lose steam.
Interest-rate anxiety: With interest rates increasing since May 1, and sharply since May 22, Bay Area homebuyers have felt more pressure to buy a home soon. On June 4, interest rates exceeded 4 percent for the first time in a year. “You know how analytical we can be in the Bay Area,” said Redfin agent Brad Le. “Some of my clients know down to the dollar how much more their mortgage is per month with the current rates, and others already stretching to afford a home have been priced out by the rate increase. The buyers who remain are even more motivated to find something.”
Buyers are withdrawing money from retirement accounts to compete with more cash in bidding wars. In the past week, three different Bay Area buyers did this, despite the penalties associated with withdrawals from 401(k) accounts. Bay Area sellers continue to have a strong preference for cash buyers, to avoid a second price negotiation if an appraisal comes in low from the buyer’s lender. Buyers are also getting help from their parents. Just last month, Redfin clients living in a one-bedroom San Francisco apartment with two small children needed extra dough to avoid being priced out of the Oakland Hills market, so the parents — who were already tired of staying in hotels during visits from the East Coast — just became a party to the purchase. Virtually every Redfin agent in the Bay Area has a story about this.
A still-exclusive club: Booms usually bring an increase in the number of agents. Not in the Bay Area. In May 2012, 6,008 Bay Area agents represented homebuyers on 9,456 transactions. By May 2013, 5,540 Bay Area agents represented buyers on 8,295 transactions. Because the market here has been inventory-gated, 2013 sales actually declined 12.3 percent, whereas the number of active agents declined 7.8 percent.
What does it all mean? The Bay Area real estate market is getting back to its own version of normal, which still isn’t that normal at all.
Until Next Time…