South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

The latest real estate Market Report for Orange County, CA.

Posted in Real estate by southorangecounty on December 31, 2009

The following is a first part of Steven Thomas’ end of year real estate market report for Orange County. Steven is a highly respected source of O. C. data, frequently cited in much of Southern California media, both television and newspapers.  He has been producing this twice monthly report for 5 years now, and has refined it into a concise and extremely informative synopsis of recent data, along with unusually accurate predictions of what looms on the foreseeable future.  His education, in addition to being a third generation member of an O. C. real estate family, includes a degree in Quantum Economics. 


Here is the first part Steven’s year end report – a review of 2009.


The real estate market in Orange County, California – the year 2009 in review.


First, let me clarify that forecasting draws from historical data and circumstances to predict the future. Yet, we are currently in uncharted waters, making forecasting the housing market more of an art than an exact science. There have already been many forecasts released that are all over the map. It reminds me of picking NFL football games during the first week of the year when there are a lot of surprises. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at what happened in 2009 in terms of inventory, demand, expected market time and distressed properties.

The Active Inventory: We started the year with 11,326 homes on the market. The discretionary homeowner returned, knowing that the market was full of challenges and competition. Values had already dropped substantially, especially in the lower ranges. The active inventory reached its peak of 11,606 homes by the end of March, 280 additional homes compared to the beginning of the year, a 2.5% increase. From there, the inventory continued to drop steadily throughout the year. Currently, the active inventory has continued its downward trend, shedding another 207 homes and bringing the inventory to 7,381 homes, a 36% drop from the peak. The inventory has dropped to levels not seen since December of 2005. In comparison, the 2008 active inventory grew from 14,944 homes in January and peaked in March at 15,617 homes, a 4.5% increase. From there, the 2008 inventory dropped 26% through the end of the year to 11,842. In 2006 and 2007, the active inventory blossomed throughout the year and peaked in August. In both 2008 and 2009, the inventory had dropped to a much healthier level with the help from the discretionary homeowner. Had discretionary homeowners not been present, we could have been looking at inventory levels hovering around the 20,000 mark. The drop in the active listing inventory has also been aided by the number of short sales that have been placed into “Backup” position. Short sales, homeowners that owe more than their home is worth, are subject to lender approval of accepting less than the full loan amount. Many short sales continued to market their homes as active listings even though they had an acceptable agreement between a buyer and the seller. They remained on the market until they had “lender approval.” This resulted in an artificially high active inventory. This has since changed and the active inventory today is a much more accurate depiction of the real active inventory.

Demand: Just like in 2008, demand, the number of new pending sales within the prior month, continuously grew unabated. It was plodding along, ignoring cyclical ups and downs from week to week. Demand grew from 2,008 homes in the beginning of January to its peak of 3,652 homes in June, an 82% increase. After June, just like in 2008, demand followed the normal cyclical, seasonal pattern. Demand was boosted by the major drop in home values over the prior couple of years, increased affordability, historically low interest rates, the first time home buyer tax credit and the sheer number of distressed properties on the market. In 2008, a peak in demand of 3,060 homes was reached in June, and then slowed for the Autumn and Holiday markets. Currently, in keeping up with the normal Holiday market cycle, demand dropped by 523 homes in the past month to 2,515 homes. That is still much healthier than last year at this time when demand dropped to 1,997 homes, 21% slower than today. In 2007, demand was at 1,031 homes, 59% slower. Current demand is also at the strongest level for the finish to a year since I started tracking the Orange County housing market five years ago.

Expected Market Time: Orange County started off the year with an expected market time of 5.62 months. But, as demand continued to pick up steam and the inventory dropped, the expected market time methodically declined and reached a bottom in September of 2.33 months. Currently the expected market time is at 2.93 months. In 2008 the expected market time started the year at 14.97 months and dropped to 5.93 months at the end of the year. In 2007 the expected market time started the year at 7.78 months and increased to 15.05 at the end of the year. The current expected market time is also at a much healthier level going into 2010. At the current expected market time, it is technically a seller’s market. Distressed properties are keeping a lid on any real appreciation, but all of the other trimmings that go along with a seller’s market are very much a part of today’s housing landscape: multiple offers, sale prices above list prices, tremendous competition, and buyer frustration.

Distressed Properties: The big story of 2008 was how much the distressed inventory grew and became such a large part of the housing market. This year, the big story was how the number of distressed properties had dropped. With moratoriums on foreclosures at the beginning of the year and the government insisting upon loan modifications, the number of foreclosures dropped throughout the year. In the beginning of 2009 there were 5,118 distressed homes on the market, both short sales and foreclosures, representing 45% of the active inventory. The distressed inventory dropped 46% to a low of 2,346 in October, representing 31% of the active inventory. With a decrease in demand due to the holidays, the current active distressed inventory increased by 41 homes over the past month and is now at 2,537 homes, representing 34% of the total inventory. In 2008, the distressed inventory started the year at 3,858 homes, peaked in August at 5,950 homes and then dropped to 5,379 homes at the end of the year. Short sales make up 85% of the distressed inventory versus 15% for foreclosures. At the beginning of the year, distressed properties made up 69% of demand versus 55% today. There is tremendous demand for distressed properties. Even though it is the Holiday market, the expected market time for all foreclosures is at 1.07 months, a DEEP SELLER’s market. The sales to list price ratio for foreclosures in the month of November was 104%. That means that the average foreclosure sold for 4% ABOVE the list price. There are only 378 foreclosures actively listed today. One year ago there were 1,294. There is similar demand for short sales with an expected market time of 2.12 months. The sales to list price ratio for short sales in November was at 99%. Short sales have become a major part of the housing market and will be throughout 2010. There are 2,159 short sales on the active market, 4,037 short sales are pending and 856 have been placed on hold. All of these statuses combined total 7,093. Short sales represent 48% of all listings, pendings and properties on hold. As a buyer, it is very difficult to avoid short sales and their lengthy process. The bottom line, there is tremendous demand for distressed properties and buyers should not have the expectation of being able to offer much less than the purchase price.

2009, a look back: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year has been the large drop in distressed sales. Throughout the year, everybody has heard of various foreclosure moratoriums and the pending wave of foreclosures to come, also known as the “shadow inventory.” The shadow inventory includes all homes that have been foreclosed on but the lender purposefully held off of the market, all homes scheduled for a trustees deed upon sale (the final foreclosure action) and, most important, all homes that are 90 days or more delinquent. There is a giant shadow inventory, but many economists and analysts have made the error of presuming that lenders are purposely holding already foreclosed homes off of the market. Instead, most of the shadow inventory is already on the market as short sales. There are over 7,000 in Orange County alone that are on the active market, pending or on hold. In Los Angeles, there are over 13,000, in Riverside there are over 8,000, in San Bernardino there are over 5,700, an in San Diego there are over 8,500. Minus Ventura County, there are over 42,000 short sales in Southern California alone. The short sales have piled up across the United States. There has been tremendous pressure from the federal government for lenders to modify loans. Thus far the program has not been that successful. Now they are turning their sites on short sales. The government wants lenders to modify first, short sale second, and, as a last resort, foreclose. On November 30th of this year, the Obama administration, through the U.S. Treasury, released the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative Program (HAFA), providing financial incentives to servicers and borrowers who utilize a short sale or a deed-in-lieu to avoid a foreclosure on an eligible loan. In response, lenders are already gearing up to handle the volume of short sales.

The first time home buyer tax credit also had a positive impact on the housing market along with the increased conventional loan limit to $729,750. The tax credit was supposed to end November 30th, but has since been extended through June of next year. So, we can expect a bump in activity due to the credit for the first half of 2010. The government was late to provide an extension to the increased conventional loan limit from 2008. So the first few months, the conventional loan limit dropped to $625,500 and then it was increased again to $729,750. The increase was set to expire at the end of 2009, but this time the government actually planned ahead and extended the increase through the end of 2010. This is very important to the Orange County housing market since loans above the conventional loan limit, jumbo loans, are much more difficult to obtain. ( End of this portion of the report.)


Tomorrow, I will post the second portion of Steven’s report, a prediction for 2010.  See you then


In the meantime, I wish you a Happy – and prosperous – New Year!

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Home Prices On The Rise, Says The October Home Price Index Report

Posted in home affordability, Real estate by southorangecounty on December 30, 2009

Home Price Index April 2007 to October 2009

More positive signals from housing — home values are still on the rise.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, after posting its first quarterly increase since 2007 this past September, the Home Price Index rose by another 0.6 percent in October.

Prices are up in 4 of the last six months.

But before we take the stats to the proverbial bank, it’s important that we recognize the Home Price Index for its shortcomings.

  1. HPI only accounts for homes with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
  2. HPI only accounts for re-sold homes — newly-built homes are excluded
  3. HPI aggregates national data whereas real estate markets are local phenomena

On a broad scale, the Home Price Index can be useful, but it doesn’t specifically apply to any specific U.S. market.  For that, analysts tend to turn to the Case-Shiller Index, a privately-produced report that assesses home values in 20 cities nationwide.


The good news for home sellers is that Case-Shiller’s most recent report corroborates the government’s conclusion — home values are creeping back.

Home buyers should pay attention. When public and private sector data is in accord, markets tend to go along and, looking back, housing likely bottomed in February 2009.  Since then, home sales are up, home supplies are down, and values have increased in most U.S. markets.  Furthermore, so long as mortgage rates remain low and government stimulus is in place, the trend should continue through at least the first quarter of 2010.

If you’re on the fence about buying a home right now, or wondering about timing, consider your options vis-a-vis today’s market.  Into the new year, homes won’t likely be as cheap to buy, nor to finance.

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Moving To A New City? Check The Local Cost Of Living First.

Posted in home affordability, Household budgeting, Real estate by southorangecounty on December 28, 2009

New town, new costs. Try a Cost of Living Calculator.It’s not only the real estate markets that differ from town to town — the Cost of Living does, too.

Insurance costs, tax bills and just plain, day-to-day living will dent a household budget differently depending on where that household is.  It can be a nerve-wracking fact for families moving across state borders.

As an aid for the budget-aware, keeps a Cost of Living Comparison Calculator on its website.  The calculator asks 3 questions: (1) Where do you live now, (2) To where you are moving, and (3) What is your salary.  It then spits out a detailed, 58-item cost comparison list between the two cities.

Some of the key costs compared include:

  • Everyday groceries
  • Energy bills
  • Routine healthcare
  • Home ownership
  • Clothes
  • Sporting goods

The Cost of Living Comparison Calculator is thorough, with data culled from the ACCRA. You’ll be surprised at how granular the list can get. On the ACCRA website, you can buy a similar report for $5.

On the site, the data is free.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 28, 2009

Posted in home affordability, Loan modifications, mortgage rates, Real estate, Refinances by southorangecounty on December 28, 2009

Vacation weeks can lead to mortgage market volatilityMortgage markets made a 4-day losing streak last week on thin holiday volume and overall economic optimism. It was awful news for rate shoppers because mortgage rates were higher every day last week.

The holiday-shortened week marked the third out of 4 during which rates worsened and last week’s action happened to be especially harsh. Monday’s action was the worst for rates since July, for example. 

Tuesday’s was only slightly less worse.

Today, conforming, 30-year fixed mortgage rates have reached at a 15-week high — well off the lows set in early-December.

Normally, when mortgage markets worsen this badly, this quickly, it’s because of strong economic data, or growing inflationary expectations.  Last week saw neither.

Furthermore, consumer confidence didn’t rise as planned.

And yet — stock markets gained. All 10 sectors improved and they did so at the expense of mortgage bonds.

This week is again holiday-shortened so expect the same low-volume, high-volatility trading as last week.  There’s few data releases save for Tuesday’s Case-Shiller Index. Therefore, watch for momentum trading in either direction.

Markets close early Thursday and re-open Monday, January 4, 2010.  If you need to lock a rate, make sure of your loan officer’s hours.

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There’s A Very Good Reason Why The New Home Sales Data Plunged In November

Posted in home affordability, Real estate by southorangecounty on December 26, 2009

New Home Sales Nov 2008-Nov 2009One day after November’s Existing Home Sales report blew away estimates, the Census Bureau’s related New Homes Sales report failed to impress.

A “new home” is a home that is newly-constructed; not bought as a resale.

In a lackluster showing, New Home Sales dropped 11 percent in November, falling to the lowest levels since April. Furthermore, the all-important “months of supply” climbed by a half-month to 7.9.

The press pounced on the figures and if you only read the headlines, you’d think that housing had cratered.  Some of the angles were quite bold, even:

  • Weak U.S. Home Sales Show Recovery’s Shakiness (Reuters)
  • New Home Sales Plunge In November (
  • Housing Forecast : Off Life Support, Still In Critical Care (CBS News)

These headlines, although technically accurate, only tell half the story, however. The other half relates to November 30’s role as the original First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit ending date.

See, different from home resales, when a contract is written on a newly-built home, the home is rarely finished.  According to the Census Bureau, just 1 in 4 new homes are sold “move-in ready”.  The other 3 of 4 are in various stages of construction when a buyer signs on the dotted line.

Some have yet to break ground, even.

Regardless, it’s at this date of signing that the Census Bureau counts the home as “sold” — not at the actual closing.  This is the main driver of the November New Home Sales data dip.

First-time home buyers would have risked up to $8,000 in federal tax credits if they bought a newly-built home and it wasn’t ready for move-in by November 30, 2009.  And it wasn’t until November 5 that the credit was officially extended.

Suddenly, first-timers representing more than half of last month’s Existing Home Sales isn’t so shocking. Buying new carried a lot risk.

There’s always more to the story than the headline.  Sometimes, you have to dig deeper. Looking back over 10 months, the housing market is on a steady course of improvement. November’s New Home Sales data — although weak — is not terrible.

Despite what the papers might say.

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Home Inventories Plummet, Foreshadowing Higher Prices By Spring 2010

Posted in home affordability, Real estate by southorangecounty on December 23, 2009

Existing Home Sales Nov 2008-Nov 2009Home resales are soaring.

For the 4th consecutive month, the Existing Home Sales report revealed what today’s buyers and sellers already know — there’s a lot of buyer activity right now.

Existing Home Sales surged 7-plus percent in November, posting its largest number of recorded sales in 33 months.  Sales volume is up 44% higher versus last year.

It’s another example of the housing market in recovery.

There were other interesting statistics buried in the November data, too.  According to the National Association of Realtors:

  1. 51 percent of home buyers were first-timers
  2. Distressed properties accounted for one-third of all sales
  3. The median home sale price rose slightly

But of all the stats from the November Existing Home Sales report, perhaps the most important one is the one showing home supplies falling to 6.5 months. It’s nearly half of the home supply available last November.

The rapid run-off of inventory throughout 2009 is more than a trend at this point and suggests higher home valuations in 2010. Especially because mortgage rates are low, tax credits are available, and the press is giving housing positive coverage.

You shouldn’t feel rushed to buy, but you probably don’t wait too long, either – especially in the lower to medium price ranges.  The best deals of 2010 may be gone before that Spring Buying Season even starts.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 21, 2009

Posted in home affordability, mortgage rates, Real estate, Refinances by southorangecounty on December 21, 2009

Fed Funds Rate (Dec 2006 - Dec 2009)Mortgage markets improved last week as pricing followed a roller coaster-like pattern. After touching a 6-week high Tuesday, rates rallied to weekly lows Thursday, and then jumped back higher Friday.

Despite the improvement last week overall, mortgage pricing remains significantly worse from the all-time lows set in late-November.

Oddly, last week’s most prominent mortgage-related story wasn’t the most influential one.

On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee adjourned from a two-day meeting.  It voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged from its current target zone of 0.000-0.250 percent.  This wasn’t news, per se — markets expected the “no change” vote.

However, in its accompanying press release, the Fed appeared more rosy in its economic outlook, citing improving labor markets and low levels of inflation.  Results like this are a mixed bag for rate shoppers, but is generally welcomed as good news.

Rates were unchanged after the FOMC release.

The bigger story last week comes from Greece. 

Concerns for the country’s debt burden have been in play for weeks, but last week, Standard & Poor’s officially downgraded Greece’s debt rating. The move triggered concerns regarding broader Eurozone debt, especially considering the recent issues in Dubai.

U.S. mortgage markets benefitted from Greece’s troubles as “safe haven” attracted investors, driving down rates Thursday afternoon.

Debt concerns should remain in focus this week. Furthermore, there’s a bevy of domestic data that could swing rates in either direction, too.  Most notably, watch for Tuesday’s housing data, Wednesday’s inflation data, and Thursday’s consumer confidence data. Each can be a powerful influence on rates.

There will be less volume on Wall Street because of Christmas and less volume tends to spur mortgage rate volatility. Be wary of swings in either direction.

Markets close early Thursday and will be closed Friday.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 14, 2009

Posted in home affordability, mortgage rates, Real estate, Refinances by southorangecounty on December 13, 2009

The FOMC meets this week -- mortgage rates will be volatileMortgage markets worsened for a second consecutive week last week amid debt default concerns and stronger-than-expected economic data. Dollars left the bond market and mortgage rates suffered.

After re-reaching an all-time low December 1, mortgage rates have since rolled back to mid-November levels.

Rates are still low right now. Just not as low.

And meanwhile, last week’s big story — the one that should concern mortgage applicants between now and early-2010 — is the story of Retail Sales.

Last week, a government report showed that American consumers are spending more this holiday season than was expected.  The Retail Sales data implies that consumers are feeling more confident in themselves, and in the economy overall.

This is one of the last remaining pieces in the economic recovery puzzle.  Job growth, of course, is another, and both will be in focus this week as the Federal Open Market Committee meets for its final 2-day meeting of the year. 

The FOMC isn’t expected to raise the Fed Funds Rate from its current “target range” near 0.000%, but when the FOMC adjourns at 2:15 PM Wednesday, its press release will dominate the news. 

Specifically, watch for verbiage on the expected economic growth for 2010 because no matter what the Fed says, mortgage rates will be in flux.  As one example:

  • If the Fed says inflation is under control, mortgage rates should fall
  • If the Fed says inflation pressures are growing, mortgage rates should rise

There’s other news this week, too, including PPI and CPI — 2 popular inflation gauges, plus some housing data, too.

If you need to lock a rate this week, it may be safer to lock prior to the FOMC’s adjournment. Given the recent strength in Retail Sales and the reports of “crowded malls” this past weekend, the Fed may choose to revise its growth estimates for the economy — a move that would be awful for mortgage rates.

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Strong Retail Sales Data Could Lead To Higher Mortgage Rates In January

Posted in home affordability, mortgage rates, Real estate, Refinances by southorangecounty on December 11, 2009

Retail Sales Data November 2009If you wonder what mortgage rates and home affordability will look like next year, today’s Retail Sales data may hold your answer.

Versus October, November’s ex-auto sales were up by more than 1 percent. Analysts expected the increase, but not an increase of this magnitude.

“Ex-auto” means that motor vehicles and parts are excluded from the data.

Home values are increasing in many parts of the country and household net worths are rising, too. Therefore, we can infer from the Retail Sales report that U.S. consumers are starting to feel better about their individual finances, and about the economy overall. 

To homebuyers and rate shoppers, strong Retail Sales data may foreshadow higher mortgages ahead.  This is because sales data is a by-product of consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy.

As spending increases, the economy tends to expand, drawing investment dollars into stock markets and away from bond markets — including mortgage-backed bonds, the basis for conforming mortgage rates. 

Less bond demand leads to higher rates and, therefore, lower levels of home affordability.

Despite the Holiday Season momentum, however, 2009 will likely mark just the second time that Retail Sales data fell year-over-year since the government started tracking it 40 years ago.  The other year was 2008.

But, if November’s Retail Sales is a reliable indicator of consumer sentiment overall, we should expect 2010 to rebound strongly.  And when it does, mortgage rates should suffer.

The housing market is recovering, mortgage rates are still near all-time lows, and the government is offering an $8,000 tax credit to qualified buyers through April 30, 2010.  If you plan to buy a home next spring, you may want to consider moving up your timeframe.  Waiting may be costly.

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Foreclosure Activity Falls For The 4th Straight Month

Posted in Foreclosures, home affordability, Loan modifications, Real estate by southorangecounty on December 10, 2009

Foreclosures concentrate in 4 states (November 2009)Since peaking in July 2009, national foreclosure activity has dropped through 4 consecutive months. 

On a month-to-month basis, November’s foreclosure activity fell another 8 percent. 

However, national foreclosure activity continues to be dominated by a minority of states.

As reported by, more than half of November’s foreclosure-related activity sourced from just 4 states:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Illinois
  4. Michigan

These are the same 4 states that topped October’s foreclosure activity despite three of them posting month-to-month declines last month.

The remaining Top 10 states in terms of total foreclosure activity include Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Nevada and New Jersey.

If you’ve been actively looking at REO lately, you’ve likely noticed that true bargains are harder to find.  This is because buyers of all types — first-timers, move-ups, and investors — are purchasing bank-owned homes aggressively and getting better at identifying the “best ones”.

But just because supplies are dwindling doesn’t mean you should just jump in.  Buying foreclosures isn’t for everyone for two very strong reasons:

  1. Homes are often sold as-is and may have “issues”
  2. The closing process can be unpredictable

Therefore, if you’re thinking of buying a foreclosed home, be sure to talk with me about potential problems before going under contract.  Better too soon than too late.

There are still good deals in the foreclosure market, but based on November’s data, they may not last through the winter.  “Distressed home” sales now account for 30 percent of home resale activity.

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