Tips for Silicon Valley Home Buyers
My Cambrian area of San Jose Real Estate Report was recently published with the updated numbers from the closed sales last month for this part of San Jose (95124 and 95118 with a little of 95008 too). Please click on the link above to see much more information there.
In this district of San Jose, we have been experiencing dreadfully low inventory of homes for sale, and buyers aren’t backing off as much as usual for this time of year – I believe because there is just a whole lot of pent up demand from upwards of two years in a deep seller’s market. What does that mean? Sellers, if you have a problem home, or one not updated or well maintained, this is the time to sell it – buyers have little to choose from so are purchasing properties that need more work than they would bother with in a more balanced market.
Want to learn more about Cambrian Park real estate, the Cambrian district, Cambrian neighborhoods, school districts and zip codes? Please also see this article: Cambrian Park: Good Schools, Low Crime, Close to Los Gatos and Campbell. Cambrian neighborhoods can be located at the menu bar: Neighborhoods –> San Jose (all areas) –> Cambrian Park (SJ).
Be sure to read to the end to see the live Altos charts too – they are near the end of the article so please keep reading into the next page!
Cambrian single family homes trends at a glance
Though sales have dropped, the turnover is fast and steady, and the sales to list price has remained high, close to 108% for three months now. It is a strong sellers market.
|Trends At a Glance||Sep 2017||Previous Month||Year-over-Year|
|Median Price||$1,150,000 (-0.2%)||$1,152,000||$980,000 (+17.3%)|
|Average Price||$1,212,070 (+2.5%)||$1,182,770||$1,039,930 (+16.6%)|
|No. of Sales||58 (-22.7%)||75||77 (-24.7%)|
|Pending||54 (+14.9%)||47||58 (-6.9%)|
|Active||34 (+36.0%)||25||86 (-60.5%)|
|Sale vs. List Price||108.7% (+0.5%)||108.2%||101.8% (+6.8%)|
|Days on Market||12 (-2.4%)||12||23 (-50.0%)|
|Days of Inventory||17 (+70.0%)||10||32 (-47.5%)|
And the chart from last month:
|Trends At a Glance||Aug 2017||Previous Month||Year-over-Year|
|Median Price||$1,152,000 (+1.1%)||$1,140,000||$984,500 (+17.0%)|
|Average Price||$1,182,770 (+0.4%)||$1,178,450||$1,022,030 (+15.7%)|
|No. of Sales||75 (-2.6%)||77||54 (+38.9%)|
|Pending||47 (-23.0%)||61||77 (-39.0%)|
|Active||25 (+13.6%)||22||90 (-72.2%)|
|Sale vs. List Price||108.2% (+0.4%)||107.9%||101.8% (+6.3%)|
|Days on Market||12 (-37.4%)||19||30 (-60.5%)|
|Days of Inventory||10 (+16.7%)||9||50 (-80.0%)|
Generally speaking it is still a hot seller’s market and great time to sell a Cambrian home.
The condo and townhouse real estate market for San Jose 95124 & 95118
If you are tired of paying $3,000 per month in rent for a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment and have decided that you want to buy a Silicon Valley home, you may find that it’s complicated and scary as the San Jose area is in a very deep seller’s market. Let’s take a quick look at the major challenges and decisions you’ll face as a potential Silicon Valley home buyer.
Silicon Valley home buyer challenges
Affordability – or the lack of it
Challenge # 1: the cost of housing is staggering, whether you are renting or buying, whether you are a first time home buyer or you’ve just relocated from somewhere else less expensive (meaning almost anywhere). Homes under a half million dollars are few and far between, as the newspapers and media have recently announced, and the median price of houses in Santa Clara County is about $1.1 million (and closer to $1.3 million in San Mateo County, less in Santa Cruz County), with the average price being higher still. Of course, condos and townhomes are less pricey, but they will have Home Owner Association or HOA dues to factor in. Same with mobile homes, which nearly always have space rents of $1,000 or more in Silicon Valley. If you want to buy a Silicon Valley home, figuring out “how much house” you can afford when purchasing can be a painful exercise. (Hint: your success in life is not reflected in the size or remodeling of your home here. The odds are good that you will be disappointed when you see how little you can buy.)
How much can you afford in this hyper expensive real estate market?
The old rule of thumb is that a consumer can qualify for a mortgage for 3-4 times his or her annual income. Translation: if you make $200,000 per year, and don’t have other debt (student loans, car payment, etc.), you may get a mortgage of $600,000 to $800,000 (and then you need the down payment on top of that). In most parts of Silicon Valley, that means buying a condo or a townhouse, not a single family home. In addition to the down payment, there will be closing costs, and most likely repairs to the property since in the current market sellers usually aren’t providing section 1 pest clearances or doing other repairs. Cash is crucial.
Challenge #2 if you want to buy a Silicon Valley home: money for the down payment, closing costs, repairs, and reserves – it’s more than you might think. Pulling together the hefty down payment and other needed money is always hard. In this crazy area, though, most people who want to buy a Silicon Valley home need not just 20% down, but additional funds in order to be competitive with multiple offers. So you may need to be able to throw $200,000 to $400,000 down on that normal, non-luxury house or townhouse. Saving that much money is a trick, and many first time home buyers either get help from parents or are cashing in on stock options to pull it off. Most of the time, home prices seem to appreciate faster than buyers can save, so having some sort of boost beyond your own saving power is critical for most. This has been true for many decades here – both the relatively high cost of housing and the difficulty in pulling together 20% or more for the down payment. (It was true in the late 1980s when my husband and I were trying to buy our first home, too.) It’s even harder now, though, as 25% is often the bottom amount that will get your offer seriously considered if there are multiple bidders on a home for sale. Continue reading
An appraisal is an opinion of real estate value by a licensed appraiser, employed when a house or condo is under contract or sale pending with a mortgage, so that the lender does not over-invest. In other words, when an appraisal is used in escrow, it is to protect the bank which is lending money on the property. Appraisals may be used at other times, too.
Market value is what home buyers and sellers will agree on as the sale price of a property. When Realtors work up a comparative market analysis or competitive market analysis, they try to figure out where the home will sell in the future, or what the market value will be. They will also strive to bring that sale price to the top of the possible range of likely values – or go beyond it.
Put another way, appraisals attempt to determine the most precise value for what a home should be worth. Home buyers may or may not agree with an appraisal’s results, though. The appraisal value does not equal market value. The market may find the property to be worth more or less than what an official appraisal states as the worth of the real estate.
With an appraisal, there is a subjective element to the opinion of value. For instance, if a brand new kitchen sink is tangerine in color but in great condition, will the appraiser ding it for being unpopular, or value it higher for being new? I can tell you that most Realtors would take off projected value for that poor color choice – but I doubt that an appraiser would. How about a flag lot? Is that worth more or less than a standard lot on the street? Most buyers would prefer a home on the street, and that may impact the sale price, but will an appraiser devalue a flag lot? Maybe.
Or with a view, how much is it worth? Recently I sold a Saratoga home with a fantastic, once in a lifetime view. The appraiser who came out for the bank downplayed the view as not having much value at all. The home buyers who bid on the property, though, thought it was all about the view.
Fair market value is when there is just one buyer (or couple) and one seller (or couple) and the property is purchased with no undue pressure on either side. It’s not a fire sale for the seller. The buyer isn’t competing in a crazy multiple offer situation. The appraisal will have the best odds of matching market value in this circumstance, but even then, it’s no guarantee. In the San Jose area, if there’s only one buyer for the residence and it’s a moderately priced piece of real estate, there may be something wrong that makes buyers somewhat devalue the home. (This is because we have perpetually low inventory – at least as of this writing in 2017.)
In a rapidly appreciating market, appraisal values often lag the probable buyer’s value (or market value). This is because appraisals are always backwards looking in time. They consider the closed sales. If a property closed escrow 3 months ago, that purchase price was probably agreed upon 4 months ago, since most escrows run about 30 days. With multiple offer situations, we may get 6 offers on a Silicon Valley home and four of them can be at a certain number – but the appraisal comes in lower.
Home buyers decide on their pricing based on sold homes which are similar as well as the current competition and the trajectory of the market. In spots, they say “run to where the ball is going“. If you run to where the ball is now, you will miss it. So too with an actively changing market.
Sometimes the market gets soft, either generally or in certain pockets or pricing tiers. When that happens, home sellers can find themselves frustrated if there was a recent appraisal but home buyers don’t agree with the stated value. “But the appraisal said it’s worth MORE!” Buyers don’t care about the appraisal. If the buyers who step up to the plate with an offer are the only ones bidding, there’s a good chance that the ultimate sale price negotiated will be the true market value. That does not make the appraisal wrong, it only means that either prices have gone down a bit since the appraisal or that market conditions have created a lower sale price.
Why is it so hard to buy a home in Silicon Valley? Most of it has to do with our ongoing and severe inventory shortage.
I initially wrote the article below on Feb 9, 2012. I thought it was bad then – and I suppose that relatively speaking, it was. But it’s much worse now!
Today is May 1, 2017, and I ran the numbers of available single family homes in Santa Clara County in a chart comparing since January of 2012. Have a look, and please note the year over year numbers:
The situation has only intensified since I first wrote this article in early 2012. There are many reasons for the problem: older people won’t sell for tax reasons (mostly capital gains). move up buyers who elect to stay and add on rather than deal with hugely increased property taxes. In general, home owners are opting to “buy and hold”.
Is it hard to buy a house in the San Jose area? You bet. And unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight anytime soon.
Original article: Feb 9, 2012
Right now I’m working with a number of very frustrated home buyers. Silicon Valley real estate inventory is painfully low, and in the lower price ranges especially, that means multiple offers are fairly common. FHA home buyers, in particular, are getting out bid and out negotiated by all cash buyers, many of whom are investors.
How low is the inventory? Let’s have a look at January’s inventory for houses & duet homes (“class 1” or single family homes) over the last ten years in Santa Clara County (San Jose, Los Gatos, Campbell, etc.):
The average January inventory of available houses over the last 10 years is 2,636. At 1,382, January 2012’s available inventory of houses for sale in the San Jose area was just 52% of normal. Continue reading
Unfortunately, so do the termites.
We have two main types of termites here (and other wood-destroying pests too), drywood termites and subterranean termites.
The subterranean termites, or subs as they are called, can be identified by the mud tubes they build from the ground or floor up the side of a wall. As their name implies, they live underground, and build the tubes as they go. Pest Control operators will remove the tubes and treat the area, injecting chemicals underground at spaced intervals, to exterminate them. See my post on identifying subs here.
Drywood termites, or drywoods, may live anywhere in the the home where there’s wood to eat. If they are found only in one or two areas, a licensed pest control company may do a local treatment. The difficulty with local treatments is that drywood termites may also be lurking in places that cannot be seen, such as between the walls. For that reason, the standard recommendation is to fumigate (also called to tent or to fume) the structure.
As I hold my listings open in and around Silicon Valley, I am amazed at the number of people interested in buying a home who are on their own and not working with a buyer’s agent. If that describes you, do you feel that you are a little afraid of a buyer consultation with a Realtor? Not sure what to expect, or concerned that you may be coerced or manipulated into hiring someone you don’t want to work with? Let’s talk about how that appointment usually or often works, and how you can meet with an agent and not feel like you have no control.
What is a home buyer consultation?
First, let’s talk about what a home buyer consultation is. In a nutshell, the appointment has just a few purposes: (1) to help the home buyer to learn about the process, what’s involved, and to answer questions about what happens and what kind of choices there are. (2) It is a job interview for the real estate professional – is this someone you would want to hire? Even though the seller usually pays the commission, the buyer’s representative is someone you hire or not. (3) It is also a chance for the Realtor to see if you are someone that he or she can or would like to work with, too. The interview is a two way process.
How long does an initial buyer appointment take? Where does it happen?
In my experience, most of these initial appointments can run anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more. The length of it is often driven by the consumer’s questions. If it is clearly not a fit, either side can say it’s time to wrap things up and call it a day. If the appointment goes well, it may last longer. Continue reading
Hiring a Realtor? Silicon Valley home sellers are very savvy and go at their real estate transactions carefully. However, some may be tempted to try to line all the criteria up in side by side charts and attempt to make a hiring decion that way. Please beware the temptation of focusing on what is “easily measurable” as most important. Sometimes the most easily measurable factors may not be that important at all. Much of what is truly valuable in a Realtor’s suite of services and skills cannot be easily measured in a side-by-side comparison chart.
When trying to figure out what market value or a fair price is for a property, Silicon Valley consumers will often look at recent sales nearby which they find online, extract an average price per square foot, and then decide that this is likely to be what a house or condo is worth based on those “comps”.
First factor: the unique real estate itself (how similar are the comps, really?)
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple to figure out that home’s likely sale price or the probable buyer’s value. Homes are much more nuanced than just the average price per square foot. Unless the comparable sold property is truly comparable in every way – similar quality of updating or remodeling, similar location, similarly expensive landscaping – and the timeframe recent, too, you’ll have to try to adjust based on varying factors. (And that’s not easy – it’s an appraiser’s area of expertise. But you may say “those comps had remodeled kitchens, so that may be worth X amount of money”. You would not ignore that big of a difference.) Look at the list of homes below – how much can you tell about remodeling, landscaping, or upgrades from a simple list? Not enough.
Second factor: speed of sale, number of offers
The situation surrounding each sale is likewise quite varied. A property that gets 4 or more offers on day 7 on the market is a different situation than 1 offer on day 43. If you are writing a real estate contract on a home that is getting multiple offers, it’s not going to help you to compare it to a stale listing that sold with just one offer. It’s not just comps: it can be the current competition that largely determines the final sale price of that house or condo.
Home Owner Association or HOA dues are monthly fees charged in some communities for shared amenities, insurance, or other services. These may be for houses, townhouses (townhomes), or condominiums (condos).
What do the HOA dues cost?
As of this writing (Sept 2016), the lowest amount I am seeing for HOA dues in the San Jose area is approximately $275 per month and the most about $1,000 per month. Typical is $350 to $450. If a complex offers more services or perks, expect to pay more.
Some condos, townhomes, or houses for sale with HOAs may disclose the monthly amount due. Be sure to also find out if there are other payments not included. I know of one complex in Saratoga that has very expensive insurance payments, making the actual monthly payment much higher than what might be stated in the MLS. So always ask if there are any quarterly, semi-annual, or annual fees due in addition to the monthly HOA dues.
Beware: sometimes younger complexes under-charge, either by accident or as an inducement to get you to buy. This is not a good thing because eventually that community will find it’s short of funds and will need to have a special assessment to get back on track.
Special assessments are a nightmare for home owners. When buying a condo, townhouse, or house in a complex with a Home Owner Association, make sure to read the very boring HOA docs carefully, and pay special attention to the reserve account. Reserves are necessary for the anticipated maintenance (such as repaving the private roads or re-plastering the pool every so often). It’s no small matter to correctly anticipate future needs, but if it’s done wrong, you may get the unhappy news of an un-anticipated assessment.
What do HOA dues cover?
The dues may cover private roads, gates, security personnel, community pools, landscaping, exterior painting, roof repairs or re-roofing, insurance (possibly homeowner’s, blanket, or earthquake), or maybe pest control work. Some HOAs include RV parking, ponds, trails, tennis courts, club houses and other more extravagant features. They will all drive the HOA fees up!
Don’t assume anything when it comes to your unit coverage. Although many Home Owner Associations will cover things like exterior painting, roofing, or pest work, they don’t all. You’ll have to read the HOA docs to know what’s covered (and what’s not).
Some nice communities with HOA dues include these:
The cooling Silicon Valley real estate market is less of a question and more of an acknowledged fact (we wondered about it in June, we are sure now). If so, how can you tell? We need to begin by talking about “the market”.
First, Silicon Valley doesn’t have ONE market. The real estate market in Palo Alto or Cupertino is going to be very different from the realty market in Los Gatos, or the various parts of San Jose, such as Almaden, Willow Glen, Cambrian, or Blossom Valley. Ditto that with price points. It’s a very different “market” for entry level houses than for luxury homes.
But if we’re going to speak in broad, sweeping terms about cooling trends, what do we SEE? What do we HEAR? What’s happening with offers and open houses? These are the ways we measure the real estate climate. Often we in the industry hear the anecdotal evidence long before it’s reported in the paper. If we hear one Realtor friend after the next report quiet open houses, or few or no offers, we know there’s a climate change afoot.
I will tell you that I am hearing these things, which hint to a softer market for home buyers:
- Houses taking longer to sell in much of Silicon Valley / Santa Clara County
- Homes selling with fewer offers than 6 or 12 months ago
- Contingencies for loan, appraisal and inspection becoming more common
- More price reductions being necessary for than a few months ago
- Fewer ALL CASH offers
- Sale price to list price coming down a little
All of these suggest a mellowing of the housing market. Do the numbers line up?
The cooling Silicon Valley real estate market: seasonal fluctuations…
Historically, we do know that the busiest time for home sales is usually February – April. Some years it’s shorter or longer. (One particularly bad year, we had exactly 3 good weeks for selling in March and nothing more.) But what do the numbers tell us?
If we view the sale price to list price ratio, we expect there to be “seasonal fluctuations”. We don’t expect a hot seller’s market in December. Therefore, what’s often most helpful is comparing the same statistics year over year. Let’s do that. The image below provides the sale price to list price ratio for houses sold in Santa Clara County from Jan 1 2012 through Aug 24, 2016 (the day I grabbed this data). This was taken from the MLSListings.com site for agents (the private MLS).
I love this kind of presentation because it’s so easy to see both month over month and year over year statistics. Take a look at August (so far) for this year compared to the prior months in 2016. At 101.5% that seems like a fantastic ratio (they would go nuts for this in most of the U.S.). Now compare it to the prior months this year and you can see it’s been coming down since March. OK, now consider prior years…it’s mostly a very similar pattern. That tells us that “spring is hotter”. We already knew that, but seeing it for most of the last few years pretty much drives the point home.
But let’s compare August 2016 to August 2012- Aug 2015. That’s a better “apples to apples” comparison. And here it’s very clear that the real estate market in Silicon Valley really IS COOLER than it was in prior years for the same month. Any doubts? Check the same info for July – yes, all hotter until you get to July 2012. Now June – same as for July. May? Yes, again, hotter for that month in 2013, 2014, and 2015 but not 2012. In retrospect, we now know that 2012 was the year the market ratcheted up for a big, long run.
Before anyone begins screaming that the sky is falling, let me stop and remind you that we are talking about a sale price to list price ratio for the entire county that is at more than 101%. This is not a buyer’s market – at least not as a county. There are hotter and cooler pockets, yes, for sure.
What we are experiencing is a return to normalcy, a flattening out, less appreciation. We are not seeing price drops at this time.
And you know what? We’ve been expecting it.
You cannot sustain double digit appreciation forever.
The reality of the cooling Silicon Valley real estate market has implications for home buyers and home sellers:
Buyers, GET OFF THE FENCE. Interest rates are good. Buying conditions are reasonable again. Yes, inventory is low, but if you know what you want, you should be able to find it in 2-3 months tops. If you can’t, then you are not being realistic with what you think you can buy for your budget.
Sellers, it’s time to be more aggressive on pricing and adjust your expectations. Yes, your neighbor got 15 offers in February, but it’s not February any more. If you get 1-3 offers, that means you did a great job of staging, pricing, and getting your home marketed. Position your home to sell, and then get it done.
Where will we be in 6 or 9 months? I don’t know. It could be better or worse after the election. My advise is to get on with your life and not try to time it too carefully, because things can happen which none of us could anticipate. If you want or need to buy or sell, make it happen.There will always be political things going on, world events taking place. There is never a perfect time to buy or sell – but there is the time you want to do it. Go ahead.
And please let me know how I can help.