The honeymoon is over. That’s right. The real estate market in 2013 felt like a honeymoon because it was full of glittery optimism, sensational news headlines and the sweet aroma of a quick recovery. Just as a honeymoon in real life comes to an end, we all knew such rapid appreciation was not sustainable, inventory could not be that low forever and interest rates wouldn’t endlessly hover at historically low levels either. Of course this doesn’t mean the market is not still ripe for positive growth, but only that this year probably won’t feel as good as last year.
The Sacramento real estate market in 2013 was really driven in large part by massive amounts of cash buyers, abnormally low inventory and ridiculously low interest rates. Now that housing inventory and interest rates are beginning to increase, and investors are backing off, I expect the market in 2014 will be much slower and more sensitive to the local economy (so long as these trends persist and the government does not interfere).
Trends in 30 seconds or 3 minutes: Let’s take a look at some trends to get a visual picture of where we have been. You can probably scan these in 30 seconds or take a few minutes to digest them. Your call. Housing inventory decreased last month below 2 months of supply, which is understandable in light of the holidays and colder weather. Otherwise inventory has been flirting with 2.5 months. I said above that the real estate “honeymoon” is over, but keep in mind inventory is still very low, which means there is still room for some growth ahead (though I do not believe we will see the same rapid appreciation like we did last year since the market is different this time around in terms of inventory, interest rates and cash investors). The median price in December saw a slight uptick from November, but overall is still hovering around the $250,000 range as it has been for about six months. Can you see why people are saying the market is flat?Here is a broader picture of median price and inventory. Current values are tending to resemble values in both 2003 and 2007/2008.
Sales were sparse for the second month in a row as there were only 1217 single family detached sales in Sacramento County in December. It is normal in colder months to see less sales.
The jobless rate is thankfully going down in Sacramento County, but 8.1% is still not a pretty statistic. Can I be a resounding gong by saying we need more JOBS, JOBS & JOBS?
Here are a few important metrics on one graph. I’ll share some different versions of this graph in coming days. I like this one because it’s a reminder of how the market works. Real estate is not just about supply and demand, but a whole host of layers working together.
Overall cash sales have continued to decline while FHA sales have increased. In fact, there are now more FHA sales than cash sales in Sacramento County, which hasn’t happened in almost two years. At this time last year there were multiple offers on every single property, but these days that is becoming less common. The market is ultimately normalizing as inventory increases, which is leading to buyers generally having more power to negotiate. It is still a Seller’s market, but buyers are gaining ground.
Foreclosures have basically hit the bottom and short sales have persisted to decline too. There has been a 1% increase in foreclosures over the past quarter. At the same time it’s also important to realize inventory and the number of sales have been really low (which can skew stats).
The Final Word: The glorious “honeymoon” of 2013 may be over, but most analysts are still projecting mild appreciation in 2014. Moreover, the Sacramento market is still in a place where there is pent-up demand, so there is still room for growth. All indicators point toward a less-rapid market this year since the fundamentals seem to be poised to deliver just that. However, anything can happen. If inventory was still at one month or dropped that low again, this would be a different post. On a related note, I still think what Blackstone and other investors do is an X-factor. If they decide to ramp up their efforts and buy a few thousand local properties again, we should get ready for a second “honeymoon” in 2014.
Question: Any thoughts, insight or stories to share? I’d love to hear your take.