South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

The O. C. Market Report – This Market is Taxing!

Posted in Foreclosures, Real estate, short sales by southorangecounty on April 20, 2010

Below is the latest Orange County Market Report from my friend Steven Thomas, the President of Altera Real Estate. Steven’s reports are cited and discussed in most of Southern California’s media, as an authoritative source of local real estate information. I have slightly altered his report to make it a bit easier to read, but the context and content remains true to Steven’s report.

“The Orange County Market Report – This Market is Taxing!

Talk to an Orange County buyer, especially a first time home buyer, and you will quickly find that the real estate market is simply crazy. 

Let’s first establish that there are two different markets – below $1 million, HOT, and above $1 million, COLD. The below $1 million market accounts for 77% of the total active inventory, and 94% of demand. The lower the range, the hotter the market.  Most buyers new to the market have already formed an incorrect idea of the real estate market. They think that the market is plagued with desperate sellers waiting for a buyer to finally write an offer to purchase at a major discount and an incredible “deal” for the buyer. Instead, new, fresh inventory is scarce and buyers find that they are competing for anything half way decent that hits the market. Properties that are priced well and in good condition, garner tremendous attention and procure multiple offers.

Writing a purchase offer at the list price only to lose to three other buyers that brought in offers above the list price is common. Sales prices above list prices are common. First time home buyers losing out on properties to investors with larger down payments is common. The reality is that if a buyer is looking to bargain and negotiate, they are better off attending the local weekend swap meet. Remember, values of homes have already dropped significantly, 35% or more. Some economists have argued that values have dropped below where they should be today, which is often the case in real estate downturns. So, homes are already heavily discounted from where they were a few years ago.

Home affordability has returned to the Orange County real estate market. Interest rates are still at historical lows. Throw in buyer income tax credits and we have all of the ingredients for a major seller’s market. Buyers entering the fray in today’s market get a real quick dose of reality and, if they really want to buy, sharpen their pencils real fast. In the lower ranges and in hotter areas, homes are starting to sell for more than the last comparable sale. The only thing that is keeping values from taking off like they did before is the distressed inventory.

Housing Demand: Demand has not seen these levels since the beginning of August 2005.
Demand, the number of new pending sales over the prior month, increased by 126 homes over the prior two weeks and now totals 3,748, a 3% increase and the height thus far in 2010. Last year’s height in demand was reached in June at 3,652 pending sales. Demand is 195 pending sales stronger than last year at this time and 1,374 stronger than two years ago. It seems as if demand is beginning to hit a plateau, so we will have to watch and see if that trend continues over the coming weeks.

Developing Trends: The active listing inventory has continued to gradually increase after bottoming at the beginning of the year. Over the past two weeks, the inventory has increased by 266 homes to 9,177. We started the year at 7,165 listings and so, have added 2,012 homes to the active inventory thus far. Last year, the inventory continued to drop from mid-March to the New Year. Towards the end of last year, the drop was probably more in line with the cyclical drop in the inventory that starts in September until the end of the year.

Customarily, during the beginning of the year and into the Spring market, more and more homeowners place their homes on the market in anticipation of the strongest time of the year to sell. In the Spring market in 2006 and 2007, homeowners often tested the market and attempted to obtain values above the current fair market value. There were a ton of overpriced listings that remained on the market and which were not successful in selling – EVER.

Instead, they just clogged the inventory and it methodically grew, reaching a height in August 2007 of just shy of 18,000 listings. In 2008 and 2009, homeowners no longer tested the market and the discretionary ( “equity”.) seller disappeared. During the second half of 2009, the Orange County active listing inventory continued to shed homes and not as many new, fresh homes were placed on the market. REALTORS® in the trenches were complaining of a lack of inventory and nothing “fresh” to show their buyers.

We still hear that there is a lack of inventory, but behind the scenes, the active inventory is slowly but surely nudging upward, in every price range. It remains to be seen if the trend in an increase in the active inventory continues. Will the equity homeowner return or will more and more homeowners place their toe in the water, testing the market? We will have to wait and see. There are currently 1,384 fewer homes on the market today than just one year ago and 6,379 fewer than two years ago.


Expected Market Time: The lower the range, the lower the expected market time.
The expected market time for all of Orange County is currently at 2.45 months, a slight drop from 2.46 months two weeks ago. For homes priced below $500,000, the expected market time is 1.63 months, a deep seller’s market. For homes priced between $500,000 and $1 million, the expected market time is 2.84 months, still a seller’s market. For homes priced above $1 million, the expected market time is 9.44 months, the higher the range, the slower the market. For homes priced above $4 million, the expected market time is 38.44 months, or over 3 years.

Distressed Inventory: Again, not much has changed in the distressed inventory.
The number of active distressed homes on the market,  short sales and foreclosures combined, decreased by 33 homes to 2,781 and represent 30.3% of the active inventory. Last year at this time, there were 4,006 distressed homes on the market, representing 37.9% of the active inventory.  The number of foreclosures within the active listing inventory decreased by two homes in the past two weeks from 418 to 416. Yes, that is correct. With all of the talk of foreclosures there are only 416 on the market in all of Orange County. The expected market time for foreclosures is 1.01 months.

Short sales are a different story; there are plenty of short sales in Orange County. Short sales are where a homeowner attempts to sell a home for less than the total outstanding loans against the home, which requires the lender (or lenders in many cases) to approve the short sale, indicating their willingness to take less than the full payoff of a loan. Most short sales are not as  fast as their name would suggest, and, on average, take months to close. The number of short sales within the active listing inventory decreased by 31 and now total 2,365. The expected market time for short sales is 1.61 months, also a HOT seller’s market. Everybody’s looking for a deal, so foreclosures and short sales tend to fly off of the market.

The Most Absurd Tax Credit EVER? 

I am still scratching my head trying to understand why California approved $100 million towards a first time homebuyer tax credit. These are for transactions that close escrow on or after May 1, 2010. The $10,000 credit is spread out over three years. So, when will the $100 million run out? For every buyer, the state is counting $5,700 against the $100 million. That equates to 17,543 first time home buyers. Based upon the current wave of first time home buyer activity, the credit is forecasted to last less than two weeks. And, if there are buyers who are supposed to close at the end of this month – to take advantage of the $8000 Federal Tax Credit – and are looking to delay closing until after May 1st, the credit may end even sooner. ( End of Steven’s report.)

Like the former “Cash for Clunkers” program for automobiles, there will likely be a mad scramble for those credits – and a lot of disappointed buyers.

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