Buying a home in Silicon Valley is seldom easy, but right now, it’s nearly impossible with Santa Clara County’s critically low housing inventory. With slightly rising interest rates getting folks off the fence and strong job growth in the San Jose area – especially since Google announced its expansion in downtown, there are many more home buyers than home sellers. While this isn’t unusual, the severity of the problem certainly is extreme. How bad is it? Here’s a visual cue dating from January 2001 to March 2018 which indicates that this month’s inventory of single family homes for sale in Santa Clara County is the lowest we’ve had for March since 2001 (that’s as far back as I can get the data from MLS Listings). I’ve been selling homes for 25 years and have never seen it so dire.
This is sort of like “inventory limbo” – how low can you go? To me, this is uncharted territory for our region.
I am really wondering if other cities around the world have had this kind of inventory crisis in the past, and if so, what happened to pull them out of it. Obviously, we need more inventory, and that will mean either more new construction, incentives for current owners to sell, an easier way for people to commute long distances to work, or some combination of the three.
How does this impact you?
Many long time residents may recall that we have had a shortage for a few years here. In January 2012, I wrote about it here: Why is it so hard to buy Silicon Valley real estate right now? Compared to the recession that had just ended, inventory was low – I can look back now and think “wow, we had no right to complain! We had a lot more inventory then as we do now!” What also happened is that with the restricted inventory, home prices rose. A lot.
If you are a renter and want to be a home buyer, you now have two things going against you: rising interest rates and rising home prices (due to strong demand and critically low supply of homes to buy). If you wait a year, there’s a good chance that you will lose quite a lot of buying power as interest rates continue to go up and home prices do, too. Please check out my article on rates: How will rising interest rates impact your home buying power? Super low inventories tend to cause rapid price appreciation, and if you aren’t careful you could be priced out of the market (either because of home prices or because of those rising interest rates).
Normally, I’d be saying “take heart, buyers, inventory usually starts to rise after the SuperBowl” or “inventory rises after Valentine’s Day” or “we’ll see more homes coming on the market in March”. Well, it just hasn’t happened to any kind of significant degree.
If you are a seller, this is great news for you as it’s very likely that your equity will be increasing with the tight inventory. Buyer demand is good and interest rates are still very tolerable. It is hard if you want to sell and buy something else, but if you are down-sizing, you may be able to capitalize by purchasing all cash.
If you are a buyer, it’s important to realize that these days, most homes are selling with no contingencies of any kind (loan, appraisal, inspection). Purchasing a condo, townhome, or house is not for the faint of heart! Being not just pre-approved, but having an underwriter’s approval subject only to the ratified contract, a preliminary title report, and a satisfactory appraisal will put you into a better position. Cash is king, of course, so being able to absorb any appraisal shortfall is crucial. However, don’t let the all cash buyers scare you as some of them over estimate the value of cash. Most sellers will wait a few extra days if it means making more money on the sale.