San Francisco Home Prices Lowest Since 2000


San Francisco Bay area home sales decelerated in November but beat the year-ago mark for the third consecutive month. The allure of discounted foreclosures continued to drive sales in affordable inland markets, which helped push the median sale price down to its lowest point since former President Bill Clinton was in the White House.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos combined in the nine-county Bay Area fell to $350,000 last month. That was down 6.7 percent from $375,000 in October and down a record 44.4% from $629,000 in November 2007, according to MDA DataQuick, a San Diego-based real estate information service.

The November median sale price - the point where half of the homes sold for more and half for less - stood at its lowest since it was $350,000 in September 2000. It was 47.4% below the peak median of $665,000 reached last year in June, July and August.

The median has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 12 consecutive months, yanked lower by several factors: price depreciation; a shift toward more sales in the less-expensive inland markets; slower high-end sales; and buyers' preference for lower-priced foreclosures.

Last month 47.6% of all homes that resold in the Bay Area had been foreclosed on at some point in the prior 12 months, up from 44.0% in October and 10.1% a year ago.

At the county level, foreclosure resales last month ranged from 10.0 percent of resales in San Francisco to 63.6% in Solano County. In the other seven counties, November foreclosure resales were as follows: Alameda, 44.4%; Contra Costa, 63.0%; Marin, 22.6%; Napa, 40.8 percent; Santa Clara, 38.9%; San Mateo, 21.8%; Sonoma, 51.6%.

A total of 5,756 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in the region last month. That was down 24.4% from 7,613 sales in October but up 12.3% from 5,127 sales in November 2007.

Last month's tally was still the second-lowest for a November since at least 1988, when DataQuick's statistics begin. The drop in sales from October - more than double the normal, seasonal decline - is partly the result of November having just 17 business days, compared with at least 19 in most Novembers over the past 20 years. The shorter month, which began and ended on a weekend, meant fewer deals could get recorded in the county public records that DataQuick tracks.

November sales look stronger from this perspective: The daily average number of escrows recorded last month was only about 2% lower than in October, when sales were highest for any month this year.

"Considering the times we're in, November turned out to be a decent month from a sales volume perspective. We know the buyers who got keys to their newly purchased homes were very committed, given they had to digest an extraordinary amount of negative news this fall en route to closing their deals," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

"As for the near free-fall in the Bay Area's overall median sale price lately," he continued, "it certainly doesn't mean every home has seen its value plummet that far. The median measures what is selling in the region, and recently the hottest sellers have been discounted, distressed homes, mainly inland. Having said that, coastal and move-up markets, where sales remain sluggish, showed more signs of price weakness. A glimmer of hope for sellers in those areas is the government's interest in driving down mortgage rates and loosening credit. Eventually it could help ignite more move-up buying."

The Bay Area's more expensive counties - Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara - saw their share of total Bay Area sales fall again, to 35.0 percent, compared with an historical average of 43%. Those four counties were also the only in the region to log year-over-year sales declines in November.

MDA DataQuick is a division of MDA Lending Solutions, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates. MDA DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

In October, use of FHA, government-insured mortgages allowing a down payment of as little as 3% rose to 20.6% of Bay Area home purchase loans. That's a record in DataQuick's statistics and up from less than 1.0% a year ago. At the same time, use of larger mortgages known as "jumbo loans," common in higher-cost coastal neighborhoods, continued to fall. Before the credit crunch hit in August 2007, 62% of Bay Area sales were financed with jumbos, then defined as over $417,000. Last month just 23.0% of purchase loans were over $417,000.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $1,625 last month, down from $1,767 the previous month, and down from $2,963 a year ago. Adjusted for inflation, current payments are 35.6% below typical payments in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. They are 51.5% below the current cycle's peak in June 2006.

Indicators of market distress continue to move in different directions. Foreclosure activity has waned recently but remains near record levels, while financing with adjustable-rate mortgages is near the all-time low, as is financing with multiple mortgages. Down payment sizes and flipping rates are stable. Non-owner occupied buying activity appears flat overall but is above- average in some markets, MDA DataQuick reported.

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