Please Turn Out the Lights?
– a Mite Prematurely
[According to a survey] “49 % of Bay Area residents were looking to move out.”
“San Francisco is such a boomtown that people are leaving in droves.”
Wall Street Journal
“Silicon Valley is over” “In the last three months of 2017, San Francisco lost
more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country.”
New York Times
“San Francisco is so expensive that more people are leaving than moving in
– and it could mean disaster for the nation’s tech capital.”
The sources of the data behind the above (and many more) articles: an online survey by a PR company; an analysis of traffic on a real estate website; the alleged cost of a U-Haul to Las Vegas; anecdotal opinions from a handful of venture capitalists on a mid-west bus tour; and new U.S. census data, more often than not selectively or misleadingly quoted to sound most ominous. (The WSJ article was by far the most fastidious with using hard data from reliable sources, though it was still alarmist in tone.)
Bad news, predictions of crashes, the arrogant finally getting their comeuppance: These stories grab eyeballs and get re-posted on social media. And much of the country finds the Bay Area insufferably smug – its wealth, home prices, unicorns, Google buses, 26-year-old billionaires, liberal politics, and much else – and if it is finally getting its just deserts, that is entertaining news. I get that: Sometimes, I find us insufferably smug myself. But let us investigate the issues a bit deeper.
First of all: Without argument, there are big economic and social challenges facing the Bay Area: high housing costs; high state income taxes; recent federal tax law changes; the hostility of the current federal government to foreign immigration; rising income inequality, poverty and homelessness; growing commute times and other quality of life issues; national and international concerns; and, yes, population migration trends too. This was covered in some detail in our recent report Positive & Negative Factors in Bay Area Markets. It is certainly true that places like Austin and Seattle, with much lower housing costs and no state income taxes, are actively luring our businesses to relocate or expand there, and doing so with some significant success.
But, for a much more realistic illustration of what is going on in the Bay Area, here is some hard data from U.S. Census and CA Employment Development Department data released in March:
More people are NOT leaving San Francisco or the Bay Area than arriving. When you tally both domestic migration in and out (to and from other places in the U.S.), and foreign migration, more people are arriving than leaving. It is true than in the past 2 years, domestic net migration has shifted to a net loss, but that deficit is still overcome by the large positive in foreign immigration. Is the shift in domestic migration worrisome? Yes, if it continues to grow. But it is not cataclysmic in its current proportions, and there are further underlying factors to consider, which shall be discussed later in this report.
San Francisco County: Residents Leaving, New Residents Arriving
Net Domestic & Foreign, and Total Net Migration Numbers, per U.S. Census
The last column in each year tallies the net positive migration number
5-County San Francisco Metro Area Migration
The last column in each year tallies the net positive migration number
The Bay Area population is still growing both from migration and natural factors (births less deaths), albeit at slower rates than the torrid pace of previous years. As the WSJ admits in its article, SF and SF metro area populations are not shrinking: The SF Metro area population increased by .6% in the last 12 month period, as measured by the census through 7/1/17, which is one tenth of 1 percent lower than the .7% national rate. And a slower rate of growth than our recent population explosion is not a bad thing, since the Bay Area is bursting at the seams from growth without concomitant improvements in housing supply and infrastructure.
Long-Term Population Trends: San Francisco County
Short-Term Population Changes: 5-County SF Metro Area
The representation by Business Insider that 49% of residents were looking to move out is simply absurd. Really? Every other person? If people were fleeing or planning to flee in the proportions suggested, one would expect every other home in the Bay Area to sport a “for sale” sign, while the percentage of homeowners selling their homes is actually at historic lows: Less than 2% of SF house owners sold their homes in 2017. (The ratio was higher for condo owners, but still low at something over 4%.) I suppose it is possible that in the frenzy to get away, people are simply abandoning their homes instead of selling them.
New Listings Coming on Market: San Francisco County
Bay Area employment growth remains extremely strong. According to the CA Employment Development Department, for the six big Bay Area counties (the 5-county SF metro area plus Santa Clara County), no matter which month of 2017 one looks at, the year-over-year increase in Bay Area employed residents, ranged from 60,000 to 90,000. As the WSJ notes: “The broader Bay Area is the most robust metro region in the nation in terms of payroll job growth, according to the most recent regional analysis from the University of California-Los Angeles Anderson Forecast, an economic forecaster.”
Number of Employed Residents, per EDD
5-County SF Metro Area + Santa Clara County
Some other factors to consider:
Many of the people leaving inner Bay Area counties are moving to adjacent counties, such as Solano, Sonoma, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin, San Benito and Stanislaus Counties. Many of those people almost certainly continue to work within the metro area. To some degree, the Bay Area economic zone is expanding geographically, not declining.
The Bay Area over the past 7 years has been one of the greatest new-wealth creation machines in history. With the recent Dropbox IPO, it seems to be cranking into gear again – and there are still dozens of other local unicorns such as Uber, Pinterest, Airbnb, Palantir, with total values in the hundreds of billions of dollars – that could yet go public. Uber has already stated its desire to do so in the near future.
A substantial portion of those leaving the Bay area are retirees, cashing out on high home prices to move to less expensive locales, such as other counties in California, and Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. This is not a new phenomenon, as it has been going on for decades, though it may have accelerated in recent years, since cashing out has become so much more lucrative.
Most of those coming to the Bay Area are coming for new jobs, and the Bay Area remains a magnet for many of the best and the brightest around the world. Besides which, every year, thousands of Bay Area students graduate from schools like UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford, to take jobs locally as well. Economically, the Bay Area is trading many residents who are, to a large degree, checking out of the economy for people in the prime of their working lives.
Millions of square feet of new commercial office space continue to be snapped up as soon as they come on market, even before the buildings are finished, and the only possible reasons are new businesses arriving and existing businesses expanding, both of which are fueled by continued hiring.
The Bay Area certainly has substantial challenges to face and it is not sure it will overcome its problems. And it is true that people and businesses are moving out in greater numbers than any time since 2002. But, on the other hand, start-ups continue to start up by the hundreds, local business continue to expand, and the Bay Area undoubtedly remains one of the most innovative and dynamic economies in the world. And despite all its faults and problems, it is still, in my opinion, one of the great metropolitan areas and best places to live on the planet.
Other reports you might find interesting:
These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions.
© 2018 Paragon Real Estate Group
San Francisco Real Estate
No Let-Up in Demand So Far in 2018
March 2018 Update
So far in 2018, the market seems to have brushed aside any concerns about increasing home prices, rising interest rates, and new federal tax law changes. It is still very early in the year to come to definitive conclusions about where the year is going, but right now, in most market segments, buyer demand is competing ferociously for a limited supply of listings. This is especially true in the more affordable home segments, and particularly for house listings. The situation is somewhat more complicated in the highest price ranges, especially in the luxury condo segment where supply has been rapidly increasing. Of course, whatever the property type or price segment, it all ultimately depends on the specific property, and its location, appeal, preparation, marketing and pricing.
As an example of what is going on so far in 2018, our dollar volume SF home sales here at Paragon is up 38% for January and February as compared to last year, though admittedly we are outperforming the general market, which is still up by 8% (per Broker Metrics for MLS sales).
San Francisco Median Home Price Appreciation
Year-over-Year Comparisons since 2005
San Francisco Price per Sq.Ft. Appreciation
Year-over-Year Comparisons since 2005
These first two charts above compare year-over-year median and average home values for the same 3-month period, December through February, since 2005. For the past 3 years, appreciation for houses has dramatically outpaced that for condos. This is mostly a factor of supply as new-construction condos have poured onto the market, while the supply of house listings has continued to dwindle in the face of high demand.
We are not enthusiastic about monthly median price movements since they tend to bounce around without great meaningfulness due to a number of factors, and sales volumes are very low in the first 2 months of the year, but, for what it is worth, the SF median house price soared to a new high in February 2018 to $1,715,000 (100 sales across 70-odd neighborhoods, reported to MLS by 3/7/18 – late reported sales may affect this price). Monthly median condo prices have generally been jogging up and down within a relatively narrow range since 2015. Chart: Chart: SF Monthly House & Condo Median Sales Prices
Appreciation by San Francisco District
by Year since 2004
The next 2 charts glance at house value appreciation in major districts around the city, from most affordable to more expensive to most expensive. As mentioned before, houses in more affordable neighborhoods have seen the most competitive market dynamic, and most consistent appreciation, in recent years.
It can be challenging to measure appreciation in the most expensive price segments, because, firstly, there are not that many sales, and secondly, because of the huge range of sales prices within those segments ($3m to $30m for luxury houses in SF; $2m to $22m for condos and co-ops), but it may well be that their values have mostly plateaued since 2015, or in some instances, ticked down. This can be seen in the second chart below with average dollar per square foot values declining a little in the most expensive house district in the city, Pacific Heights-Marina. But, again, it all depends on the specific property, its location and circumstances.
Median House Sales Prices by District
Average Price per Square Foot House Values
Or simply contact us regarding the neighborhoods you are specifically interested in.
San Francisco Luxury Home Market
Luxury home sales started off very strong in 2018, but the supply and demand dynamics are softer than in the general market. In the ultra-luxury condo market, in those neighborhoods where new, high-price condo construction is concentrated, supply is now outpacing demand. We just did a massive update of our luxury home analysis and it can be found in its entirety here: Paragon Luxury Market Report.
Below are a few samples of charts in the complete report.
Year-over-Year Sales Comparisons
First 6 Weeks of the Year
Active Luxury House Listings by District
SF Luxury House Sales by Era of Construction
Active Luxury Condo & Co-op Listings by District
Supply & Demand: Ultra-Luxury Condos & Co-ops
Long-Term Trends in Inventory
Only about 2% of house owners are putting their homes on the market each year, which is incredibly low by historical measures. About 5% of condo owners sell their homes each year, plus the new-construction condos that come on the market. This dynamic has made houses into the scarce commodity, and has fueled dramatic house price appreciation.
Active Listings on Market at End of Month
Short-Term Trends: Seasonality
We are just heading now into the biggest sales season of the year, running from March through mid-June. The real estate market in the city is significantly affected by seasonality, and the luxury segment is even more fiercely affected. We shall also see if rising interest rates (if they continue to rise) or the changes in the federal tax law start to have any significant dampening effects on demand.
New Listings Coming on Market
Luxury Home Market
Selected Supply & Demand Statistics
The following charts illustrate 3 of the classic indicators of market heat, and all of them speak to the feverish real estate market we have seen so far in 2018. However, the market is clearly hottest in the non-luxury price segment, and cooler in the highest price ranges, which is illustrated in the fourth chart below.
Percentage of Listings Accepting Offers
Months Supply of Inventory (MSI)
Months Supply of Inventory (MSI)
by Property Type & Price Segment
The market is softer in the highest price ranges
especially for the most expensive condos
Average $/Sq.Ft. Value by House Size
All things being equal, house size and price per square foot go in opposite directions, i.e. a smaller house will sell for a lower sales price but a higher dollar per square foot value. This has to do with land value and the cost of systems, kitchens and baths. This is why, comparing two periods of time, it is possible that median sales prices can go up while dollar per square foot values go down, or there is a significant mismatch in the appreciation rates – the average size of the houses sold significantly changed between the periods, which happens sometimes. The charts below are of 2 districts with both a good number of sales and relatively homogenous values within the district.
In both the cases below, the difference in price per square foot between smaller houses and the largest houses runs about $200, a 15% to 20% difference.
The above effect does not always apply: For example, in Pacific Heights, the biggest houses are also often in the most prestigious locations with the best views, and so command a premium in price per square foot despite their size. And this often does not apply to condo sales, because bigger units are often built higher up in the building, with more expensive finishes, delivering better (or staggering) views, and thus selling for higher $/sq.ft. values.
Debt in America
One of the macro-economic factors of concern is that debt levels, of virtually every kind, are hitting new highs in the country (and in the world). This has been heavily subsidized by the historically low interest rates prevailing in recent years, but rates appear to be headed upward, and increasing debt often plays a big role in market cycles.
(Often a Sign of Investor Over-Exuberance)
Household Non-Housing Debt
Credit Cards, Student Loans, Car Financing
Household Mortgage Debt Service Ratio
The amount of total mortgage debt in the country is now about the same as at its last peak in 2008 (not illustrated on this chart), but because of the plunge in interest rates since then, the ratio of mortgage debt service to disposable income was close to an all-time low in mid-2017. Interest rates have been rising since then, but are still about 30% lower than in 2007. The good news is that so much of mortgage debt in America is now in fixed-rate loans at very low interest rates, which adds much stability to economic conditions, a stability grievously lacking at the time of the 2008 financial markets crash.
Additional reading for those interested:
Information on neighborhoods not included in this report is readily available.
It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific, tailored, comparative market analysis. In real estate, the devil is always in the details.
These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term. Late-reported MLS activity may change certain statistics to some small degree.
© 2018 Paragon Real Estate Group