Saturday, July 14, 2007

From Myth to Fact to ... ?

I wasn't really going to post much anymore as the "myth" of a housing bubble is now accepted fact (I just love this real estate agent quote -- "Just a couple of years ago, people were saying ... the housing bubble is a myth. That turned out to be absolutely incorrect."). But this article in the NY Times mentions Marin and only belatedly confirms what we already know to be happening now -- the bottom half of the market is tanking and the upper half is doing okay; county stats reflect the change in the mix in what's selling... primarily the pricier houses; as events proceed expect the upper half of the market to become less and less secure.

It's nice to see some in the main stream media (MSM) finally getting with the program, even if too late.

On a related note, I have enjoyed watching this San Rafael house's recent "sales" history:

This house has lots of curb appeal, it's reasonably sized by Marin standards (3 br, 1 ba, 1108 sq ft), and, considering its location, its lot is not even all that small at 2788 sq ft. Nevertheless, it's current wishing price is only $675,000. That's down from its peak wishing price of $884,000 in mid-2006. (I would bet at the bubble's peak that house would have fetched around $900K.) So its mark-down from it's known peak value is -24% and probably more since we don't know what it will actually sell for. So don't believe all the hype from the housing bulls who are still in denial. This house is firmly within the "bottom half" of the market and if the esteemed NY Times can use a single house in Mill Valley to argue that the upper half of the market is still doing fine then I can use a single house to show that the bottom half is not doing fine.

Oh, and then there is my all-time favorite in Mill Valley... it still hasn't sold putting its real days-on-market statistic well in excess of 1.5 years:

The above house was originally bought and sold within a five month span... a classic Marin flip gone flop.

I think the above floplords might want to check out Dr. Mort Gage's Burn Creme:


Blogger Akubi said...

Good point. I missed that NYT article. As a "bottom half of the market" Marinite, I've watched the resale value of my condo steadily decrease while the overall cost of rehabbing those cute fixer single family homes increases which sort of leaves one stuck doing nothing. BTW, I recently checked out this San Rafael fixer. Quite a large lot so I suspect it will sell for over the asking price and be converted into another parking lot for Elephant Pharmacy or Whole Foods or something. Sad because there are a number of charming vintage details in the house. With the dry rot, retrofitting, apparent termite infestation, etc. I would imagine bringing that place up to par would cost at least another 300K....What do you think it will sell for?

Jul 14, 2007, 2:53:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm in San Anselmo. At the peak (2 years ago) a 2 bdrm/1 ba cottage went for $900K. I kid you not. Earlier this year, a comparable cottage (nicer inside, actually) around the corner went on the market for $785K and never sold. That's a 13% drop.

Did you see the koolaid/fluff RE special section in the IJ today? Apparently Marin is holding up while the rest of the country goes to hell in a handbasket.

Meanwhile....over on RealtyTrac....there are 175 homes in Marin in preforeclosure and 158 bank owned properties. Yeah, we're doing just fine.

But seriously, when are people going to wake up and really digest the reality of the hole they've dug for themselves??

Friends of mine are trying to sell their home in Tiburon. 2 price cuts. Open Houses every weekend. It's been on the market 3 months with no offers.

Jul 14, 2007, 4:56:00 PM  
Blogger mountainwatcher said...

Marinite, I know you are a busy guy, and I know maintaining this blog is probably a PITA.

That being said, I'm always delighted to see new material here.

You still provide a great resource to counter the misinformation from the hugely budgeted real estate machine.

I want to own a home in Marin some day.

Sometimes I worry that I won't be able to.

This blog helps me "hang in there" and wait for more rational times.


Jul 15, 2007, 2:19:00 AM  
Blogger chiromancer said...

I think one of the most devastating and fundamental problems with the bottom half of the Marin market is rapidly becoming clear. Why would anyone who can actually afford a 500k to say 900k house want to live in what has been available at that price in Marin? The key words are "actually afford". At 3 times income a 500k house means about a 167k annual income even with 20% down its about 133K I can fully assure you that the people making that kind of money would not want to live in a sf home you can buy for 500k in Marin. With the realtors hypnotic chant of ever rising prices now being broken and with credit tightening the absurdity of Marin lower end home prices is beginning to be acknowledged and reflected in the market. This will eventually spill over into the upper half but I think it will be much slower. IMO while overpriced, the upper half of the market has never been as obscenely overpriced as the bottom half.

Jul 15, 2007, 1:35:00 PM  
Blogger Marinite said...

IMO while overpriced, the upper half of the market has never been as obscenely overpriced as the bottom half.

FWIW, I tend to agree. An astute reader of this blog once said that he thought the housing bubble in Marin was primarily concentrated in the lower half or so of the Marin market. I think that's basically correct but I would argue that the bubble extends as far as the $2mill range or so; the situation has just not deteriorated to the point yet where that submarket is meaningfully affected.

Speaking of the county as a whole, we have two markets in Marin but one county statistic which glosses over both markets. That serves RE agent's "hypnotic chants" and industry hype.

Jul 15, 2007, 1:46:00 PM  
Blogger cajun100 said...

The upper levels of the market in high amenity areas such as Marin County (beauty, access, low crime, values, schools, etc. etc.) will sail on with slight adjustments for the most obscenely overpriced offerings.

Why? Because the moneyed crowd looking grows larger, the areas seems more desirable (in comparison to many others), and the inventory of decent expensive properties remains small.

In my Mill Valley neighborhood, an almost total replacement of the "bought in the fifties" crowd has occurred since 1995. An immense amount of remodeling has taken place in the transition; most recently. Here are the present occupants of the 6 closest properties: (1) MD and nurse, (1) dual-attorney couple, (3) gay/lesbian couples starting families, and (1) investment banker - single. Of these, only 2 of the gay/lesbian families have children. As far as I can determine, "financing" was involved in only 3 of the last sales. Of the bunch, only 1 property was of a size to warrant being called "prime executive housing" in most areas of the country. All sold the last time around for over $1.7 million. It's almost all location.

Just returned from a nice vacation to DC-VA-MD, an area I know well, and was amazed as usual at the comparison dollar-for-dollar with my 1936 shack in Mill Valley. Of course -- the weather. The bugs. The traffic. And so on.

I totally agree that the bottom half of the (overpriced) inventory will remain in trouble without speculators, as will the higher priced (overvalued) propeties in unattractive fringe areas.

Jul 16, 2007, 9:44:00 AM  
Blogger Holland said...

I am not so sure about the price stability at the upper level of the housing in Marin. Recently I have noticed houses in Ross and Mill Valley are taking 20% discount. Some of the houses that claimed being sold a month ago just came back to the market. I guess the sub-prime woes are spreading.

Jul 16, 2007, 2:55:00 PM  
Blogger bob said...

I've gone from the: " I hope I can afford to buy something in the Bay Area"

to: " I can't wait to get the hell out of here"

I'll be honest that I do fairly well for myself financially. But as someone who was raised in the another part of the country, I'm almost all too aware that the cost differentiation is almost obscene: I'm currently eyeing a 32 acre farm, with a 2300 sq foot 2 story farm house, a large barn, and gravel driveway 20 minutes from (I'm not saying) famous Southern city. Indeed.The cost of living is roughly on par with a ratio of 4:1.Yet salaries are around 70% of what they are here. Something certainly doesn't compute.

How much would this cost in anywhere Bay Area? oh- probably around 10-15 million dollars. In (x) location, it is priced at $160,000. Yes- 160k, or about half of a down payment for any number POS homes in Marin.

No thank you. Yes- there are bugs, humidity, and maybe less pay.There's also politics and religion that tend to scare off people from places like NY and CA like bug repellent. Not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing. Albeit most of this fear is totally unfounded. But luckily Hollywood has portrayed us as such for decades, hence the subsequent unwarranted PR.

But after saving my lovely BA salary for years, I'll be able to effectively semi-retire. PS: I am under 35 years old.

Yes- I look forward to it and doubt I will miss the high prices, attitude, traffic, and world-class food. Booh-hoo. I can take cooking classes instead.

The ONLY way I would ever consider anything in the Bay Area is if the prices were to be slashed in half. This is about the only reason I am staying: To wait a bit more, and also to not miss out on any potentially dramatic entertainment when this whole 700k for a substandard home finally catches up to the area. We'll see. In the meantime...for those of you who still actually want to live here... hang tight. It'll happen.

Jul 16, 2007, 3:27:00 PM  
Blogger Holland said...

we are closer to the beginning than the end of the housing and subprime problems. According to this website:, under today's title: WTF is going on in the ABX Markets?

"Its one thing when we see that the BBB- bonds -- the junkiest sub-prime crap in the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) universe -- getting shellacked due to foreclosures.

But today, we see that the AA and even the AAA are getting whacked. It looks like either a fund is getting liquidated across all asset qualities -- or someone is panicking."

Jul 16, 2007, 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger marinite2 said...

bob -

(sarcasm on)

You just don't get it. The BA is "special" (go read the Burbed blog to understand what "special" really means). "Special" is a code word meaning that no price for housing, no mater how crippling the price, no matter how crappy the house, no matter if the property in question is a toxic waste dump, is too much. Everywhere else beyond the BA is not special. E.g., a mansion on 50 acres with fantastic views of snow-covered mountains, etc. anywhere outside of the BA is not as special as a barely standing POS in a BA marsh. But in truth, as any good Marinite would tell you, it's just Marin that is truly special and the rest of the BA is decidedly not special. Well, maybe parts of SFO and Napa are special too, they can join the club, but it's mostly just Marin. And in fact, at present only about 25-50% of Marin is really special as the rest of Marin is not special enough to allow sellers in those unspecial parts of Marin to sell at the bubblicious prices that they feel they are entitled to. In the end I'd wager that only 10% of Marin will prove to be truly special.

(sarcasm off)

Jul 16, 2007, 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger bob said...

LOL! Indeed- Marin has superiority vapors pouring from the ground.

In all seriousness though, I've been telling people for years that before they make serious plans to buy a home in an area like the BA or anywhere that tends to have the cost of living beyond rational economics, they should spend about a month on an extended road trip across America. See how people live elsewhere. Ask the people who live in those places what they think about it. See how much cheaper they live. Also- if you do take a trip, don't do like most BA people do and only visit other areas that are JUST LIKE the BA in terms of expense. So NY, most of the Northeast, and the Wes Coast are off limits.

But after you've done that and cleared your head of the little world people in the BA live in, then decide if what you thought was acceptable in regards to living still holds true.

I've been researching this for years, visiting places, putting out feelers for jobs, researching their local MLS sites, and researching them online. Many people in the BA have barely any idea of what the rest of the country is like- out there because as you say- this area is "special"

Perhaps people who feel strongly like this might be shocked to find that people almost anywhere else feel the same about where they live. People in Atlanta would never dream of living in NYC, and people in NYC would probably never leave either.

People are equally arrogant no matter where you go. Its only human nature to assume that you are living in "X" location because it is the best place for you to live. How many people do you hear from say- Raleigh NC going: " Boy- Raleigh sure sucks... wish I was living in California somewhere."... well maybe a few, but 99.9% of them love where they live, and quite a few are probably from CA, glad that they don't have to worry about high prices and stress from the living situation they once had to deal with.

Jul 17, 2007, 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger fortunateone said...

Sometimes it seems Marin really is "different"...Prices are up 15% for the year while most other areas are falling.

Jul 18, 2007, 11:32:00 PM  
Blogger mountainwatcher said...

fortunateone said...
Sometimes it seems Marin really is "different"...Prices are up 15% for the year while most other areas are falling.

Dear fortunateone...
This is the median price.
This does not reflect the true health of the market.

Marinite, do you have current stats to help support my point?

Jul 19, 2007, 3:47:00 AM  
Blogger marinite2 said...

The easiest way to see that the bottom half of the market is down is to go to zillow and look at some houses and get the historical graph of the zestimate. I know the zestimate is not a perfect measure but it is in the ball park and good enough. If you do this for higher end houses you see the graph is flat or slightly up depending on the house. If you do it for lower end houses the graph clearly peaks around the 2005-2006 boundary for most.

From what I can see in many cases people are definately selling for less than they could have at the peak. More so in north Marin and less so in south Marin although I've seen a number of these "peaky" zestimate graphs for Sausalito. Also houses that have not sold are being withdrawn from the market. I'm not sure how to quantify a house that fails to sell. Again, this just means the mix of houses that are selling is changing.

I know of literally dozens of houses in Marin that are off 15-25% from their peak selling price or estimated peak selling price. I'm not the only one who knows that either. It's only because I have access to various listing services and I keep decent records. But those houses are almost all of them are in the lower half of our market though. I guess I could blog a bunch of them but what's the point? It won't convince people who don't want to hear it and those of us who are less committed to seeing prices rise indefinately already know it -- you've either saved yourself a lot of $$$, stress, and struggle or not. All I know for sure is that if I wanted to buy a house here anywhere below the $1.2-1.5 mill boundary (peak price) for the most part I could do so with a nice discount. That's just a fact. But if it were me, I'd wait another two years before buying to let the unwinding continue longer. And maybe then the denial in the local press will have vanished.

In my opinion this bubble is a done deal and I don't really want to be bothered with gathering data and graphing it much any more. Maybe another post or two but frankly, I am a bit sorry I ever started this blog. I've learned a lot about vested interests and people's stated beliefs since starting this blog. People who want to think that changes in the median can be applied to their house or any house at all in the county will do so and there is nothing I can say that would convince them otherwise. Certainly our MSM will continue to spin it as such. If the county median jumps 15% in one month does that mean your POS is now worth 15% more? Probably not. If prices drop 15% in one month does that mean youir $20mill house is now worth 15% less, probably not. But sooner or later (no doubt so far after the fact that it doesn't matter anymore) the damage done will be obvious.

Some investment manager once said something along the lines that "the only incurable optimists are investors" meaning people who are invested are unable to percieve things going against their investments because they are committed to only one point of view.

Jul 19, 2007, 1:54:00 PM  
Blogger Holland said...

From my subscribed trading website, someone posted the following news today:

"JP Morgan said today that the worst is not over in the subprime space. It will be well in 2008 before the problems abate, according to JPM.
$500 billion of ARMs are scheduled to reset over the next 18 months.
JP Morgan says that they think that housing prices could drop 15-20% nationwide by the time this is over.
I believe JP Morgan is #1 in the sub prime activity. BSC is # 2"

Jul 19, 2007, 3:15:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

"Sooner or later, the damage will be done."

Amen. Please don't stop new posts!! I know, it's disgusting to see the headlines like today's IJ. More of the Marin's so f***** special, isn't it great the median is over $1.1MM now, blah, blah.

Ask anyone who bought in the mid 90's. Marin was as dead as a door nail. Sellers were THRILLED to find a buyer. Is Marin any more special now? No. Traffic is way worse and the attitude is appalling.

It will happen. The boom didn't happen overnight, and neither will the decline. It's been such a strong seller's market for so many years, people forget, or if they remember, insist that this time it's different.

It's not different. It will just take time. And the Marin IJ may never print a negative article, even when it's apparent that the RE market here is about as healthy as a dead whale.

I've posted this here before, but I think the ride down will be quiet. No one will boast about the genius about big mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and maintenance on a declining asset. No one wants to admit how over their heads they are financially. That would destroy the fairy dust of special we are in this county, how rich we are, how financially savvy, etc.

It's easy to proclaim you're a RE genius on the way up, but I really think the bust will happen quietly.

Jul 19, 2007, 6:45:00 PM  
Blogger marinite2 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Jul 20, 2007, 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger marinite2 said...

It's easy to proclaim you're a RE genius on the way up, but I really think the bust will happen quietly.

Lisa, why can't we have more clued-in Marin readers like you on this blog? I am so sick of hearing from the perpetually-in-denial Marin-superiority-vapour-sniffers.

Yes, the bust will happen quitely and I've said it before on this blog. But it doesn't seem to matter. The people who are hell-bent committed to arguing that it isn't so like to put words in my mouth (or the mouths of all "bubbleheads") and claim that what we are really saying is that the bust will happen loudly and over night. I really do wish it could happen that fast, like the highly liquid stock market, but houses are too illiquid for it to happen like that. The housing market has been like the stock market only in the sense of the manic investment psychology and hype.

I've been thinking of starting a new blog as I am sorta tired of this one and there is just no way I am going to blog the declining housing market for years and years until (I guess) it starts picking up again. I was thinking of calling it "Smells Like Marin Spirit" (hat tip to Nirvana) that makes fun of Marin's hypocricy, racism, pseudo environmentalism, policies based around property value protectionism, and of course, our paid-for local print media.

Speaking of which, I agree with you... the IJ will never, ever publish the truth. We just have to get it for ourselves.

I read in the Press Democrat (in Santa Rosa) the other day an article that had a headline that made Sonoma's housing market sound like all is well. But way down in the 10th paragraph or so was printed the fact that new home prices are down a whopping 47% or so. In other words, the value of houses in a county that was once, not so long ago, proclaimed to be "immune", "special", "everyone wants to live here", etc. are really about half of what people are asking (builders can cut prices down to real value whereas owners typically can't as they owe more than their POS is really worth). That should have been the headline but nooooo... can't offend our RE sponsors and puppet masters. The IJ is no different. But at least the PD had the cajones to print the facts even if they were down where most people wouldn't see it.

Even a dude at DataQuick predicted the other day that the Bay Area housing market will become a buyer's haven soon if it isn't already. Again, his comments in no way formed the article's headline nor make it anywhwere near the first two or three paragraphs (all most people read).

Also, as I ramble on, percent declines are more severe than their counterparts on the way up. I hate how the vapour-sniffing perma-bulls like to say something along the lines of "prices are only down 15%? So what? My house appreciated 30%"). Here's a simple 8th grade math example for all you idiotic housing boom self-proclaimed geniuses:

Year 1: your house is worth $100,000
Year 2: your house appreciates 50% and so is now worth $150,000.
Year 3: your house depreciates 50% and is now worth $75,000.

A made up example I admit, but it makes the point. A 50% rise in appreciation is eliminated by only a 33% depreciation. But it gets more complicated when you factor in the off-setting effect of inflation.

Jul 20, 2007, 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger marinite2 said...

Also, if you go and look at the Marin Heat Index historical chart:

What you see is this year's selling season was even more pathetic than last year's (last year has a slight bump up in mid-April). How can prices be up 15% or whatever (according to those people who like to think the county median somehow is indicative of the price change of most if not all houses in the market) in such a slow market that's run two years in a row now? They can't. The county median is up only because the higher-end houses are selling. The statistics are biased and no longer valid for the county as a whole in the sense that the county statistics are only representative of the top 25% or so of the entire housing market. But does the IJ ever make that point? Nope. Does your typical vapour-sniffing Marin realtor make that point? No way.

Ok, back to work...

Jul 20, 2007, 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger bob said...

The worst part about the housing bust is seeing that indeed home sales are very slow, but some homes still sell. In my neighborhood, we seem to be getting a lot of people from SF moving in: people who probably never set foot outside of the city and find the East Bay "cheap" in comparison.

One house near us was literally in shambles. The couple that had lived there forever had it priced way too high- as in over 700k. It sat for a year. They suddenly began slashing the price all the way down to around 550k. It was bought and then immediately patched up. New price: 790k.

It sold a month later. Sitting outside is a bimmer. Not just any bimmer, a top-of0the-line 90k bimmer. It looks out of place parked next to the old chevys and fords in our area. Looks like your typical lawyer-attorney couple.

That's what I'm thinking could happen- despite the bust- is that people from places like SF and Marin will think the East Bay is a "Steal", further changing the economic strata of the area until everyone in the BA is essentially extremely loaded.

Then again, there is a development of cottages from the 20's nearby. Cute little things. Last year, two of them went on the market and both sold in about 2 weeks. This year, two of them- side-by-side are now for sale. The signs are literally 2 feet away from one another.

I went into one of these in an open house. The realtor breathlessly proclaimed that at 670k, these would sell... quick.

Well... they're still sitting there, 5 months later without a pending sign. The market has definitely changed. Whether it simply inflates away or crashes and burns is anyone's guess.

Jul 20, 2007, 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger marinite2 said...

It sold a month later.

But, but... Bay Aryans don't flip houses. So there is no housing bubble here. That's what the bulls all tell us anyway.

That's what I'm thinking could happen- despite the bust- is that people from places like SF and Marin will think the East Bay is a "Steal", further changing the economic strata of the area until everyone in the BA is essentially extremely loaded.

Oh, great. At some dismal point in the future the entire Bay Area becomes full of nothing but doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers. Oh, and trustafarians. Great. Somehow, I don't think so.

Whether it simply inflates away or crashes and burns is anyone's guess.

And that's the real question, isn't it? Bulls are all hoping for the former...inflating away. But how long can resale houses realistically sit on the market not selling at or above their break-even point? That's why I say if you feel you absolutely must buy a house in the Bay Area then just don't buy from someone who got their loan during the last four or five years because they cannot cut their price down to non-bubble prices.

Oh, and DOW 14000? You think everything is fine and dandy and we are all getting richer with our stock investments? Yes and no.

Here's the DOW:

Oh but aren't we just the bestest!

But here's the DOW denominated in something of value, gold:

...or oil:

...or Euros:

Not so impressive, the DOW, huh? And why is it so? Because those dollars you so greedily hoard aren't worth the paper they are printed on:

Sigh. This is what happens when I have too much time on my hands.

Jul 20, 2007, 1:16:00 PM  
Blogger bob said...

"And that's the real question, isn't it? Bulls are all hoping for the former...inflating away. But how long can resale houses realistically sit on the market not selling at or above their break-even point?"

Oh believe me. I too desire nothing more than this thing to crash and burn. There are houses in my neighborhood that have been for sale for so long that I simply stop really noticing... until I go on vacation for a week and come baack and say: "Jesus Christ there's a lot of open houses, at which point my wife says:"It was like that when we left."

Yes- simple economics tells you that homes sitting forever and ever for sale and not selling will eventually drag down prices. Yet I'll admit that it seems that at least where I live, just enough sell that keep sellers hopeful.

I just can't help but wonder sometimes what in the hell these people are doing who buy. There's this one place that sold 6 months ago. It too was a royal POS that -I kid you not- was known as the " crack house" on our block. The owners hired a fly-by-night spray painting crew that came in and painted the whole house in one weekend. I don't even think they bothered priming or cleaning it. It sold for 850k to this older hippie looking couple who seem to never be home except maybe once a week. 850k... that's like a 6,000 a month mortgage. I assume they must have sold another home, inherited cash.

I guess to me it isn't the fact that the people who buy these are probably either extremely loaded due to inheritance, high-flying jobs, or what have you, it's that they obviously don't understand the news screaming that housing sales are down and so are prices. They buy anyway. Makes me want to ask them what the hell they were thinking.

Lastly, my neighborhood just 4-5 years ago had mostly old people. We're talking probably 65 and up. They've slowly been replaced by newcomers... not young families with kids ( except the lawyer couple) but more old folks. Baby boomers who've cashed out somewhere else. That's the story in my hood and probably yours: the young aren't getting a chance, and frankly that's why this 30 year old is moving to Nashville in a year.

Whether it crashes or goes up 50% for the rest of my life here is no concern of mine.

Jul 20, 2007, 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

"I am so sick of hearing from the perpetually-in-denial Marin-superiority-vapour-sniffers."

Marinite, I hear you! I think a lot of it has to do with people being really dependent on their homes for all the big-ticket life stuff...the new car in the driveway, private school for the kids and eventual retirement. Seriously, most people I know here don't save a penny, so their house is the proverbial golden goose. Without the promise of RE riches, they're just tapped out Americans, no better off than a renter with an $8/hour job and credit card debt.

I was a homeowner from '96 to '04, and was lucky enough to laugh all the way to the bank. But I also love my simplified life in my little rental cottage in San Anselmo, and a nice big bank balance for the next a few years and probably not in California.

There are lots of positives to home ownership, but not if that's all you've got and not if it means you can't save anything or pay off those credit cards every month.

If the whole CDO thing collapses, I think we will see a swift return to traditional lending standards. And we all know what that means.....

Jul 20, 2007, 3:12:00 PM  

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