Paragon Real Estate’s 2017 San Francisco Farmer’s Market Guide.


Since the year began, preliminary data has been trickling in regarding the Bay Area and city economy, and the commercial and residential real estate markets in particular, that appears to indicate that things may be heating up again after clearly cooling in late 2015 and 2016 (subsequent to the increasingly torrid conditions in the 4 years prior). It is far too early to come to any definitive conclusions regarding the long-term significance of recent local or national shifts: Some of the data is not always consistent with such a conclusion; some of the data may indicate over-exuberance in the markets. Though always hesitant to make too much of short-term trends, we will take a look at a few angles on current developments. A recent article in the San Francisco Business Times (of similar title) describes what is going on in commercial real estate, while this report will primarily focus on the SF residential market.

Percentage of Home Listings Accepting Offers
by Property Type & Price Segment
Note: 12-month median sales prices in San Francisco are currently approximately $1,350,000 for houses and $1,100,000 for condos

One of the classic statistics of supply and demand is percentage-of-listings-accepting-offers: The higher the percentage, the hotter the market. In the chart above, we assessed San Francisco by property type and price segment, comparing this past April to the same months of 2015 and 2016. Note that spring 2015 was considered a particularly feverish market characterized by very high demand and very low inventory. Most of the segments saw a considerable cooling from April 2015 to April 2016. However, almost all the segments bounced back in April 2017, and, indeed, the lower price segments performed significantly better than 2 years ago.

Other standard measures of market heat such as average-days-on-market, and months-supply-of-inventory saw similar changes (approaching all-time lows), though we did not chart them for this report. On the ground, increased buyer competition for an inadequate supply of houses under $2 million and condos under $1.5 million, dovetails with the statistics. We have also heard that new-project condo sales have seen a considerable surge in buyer demand, but we cannot verify that.

It will be interesting to see if these dynamics continue through Q2, usually the most active selling season of the year, and, if so, how they will affect median sales prices: As seen in the second chart below, so far, there has been no appreciable year-over-year change. However, most listings accepting offers in April will not close sale until May, which will then be reflected in median sales price data available in June.

Year-over-Year SF Median Sales Price Comparison

Looking at 3-month rolling median sales prices in the chart above, comparing the February through April periods of 2015, 2016 and 2017, the SF median house price is relatively flat since last year, and the median condo price is relatively flat since 2015, after both saw rapid appreciation rates in the previous years. (At this point, the recent, minor percentage changes comparing 3-month periods should not be considered significant.) The flattening in condo median price for the additional year reflects the earlier and greater cooling that occurred in that market segment.

 

Comparative Neighborhood Values & Appreciation Trends

One of our readers suggested that it would be interesting to see multiple San Francisco neighborhoods illustrated on a single chart to compare home prices and appreciation rates. We got a little carried away and created more than 2 dozen graphs, of which 6 are below.

The extremely affluent Presidio Heights neighborhood has the largest houses and highest prices in the city, with next door Pacific Heights right behind.

All the charts in this series are here: San Francisco Neighborhood Comparisons, which also includes an SF neighborhood map.

If you are interested in a city neighborhood not included our full report, please let us know.

 

San Francisco Luxury Home Pricing

It has been clear over the past 2 years that the market for higher priced homes has cooled more than that for less expensive homes, and this is reflected in the first chart of this report. One of the big issues is that many luxury home sellers have simply been asking for more money than buyers are willing to pay: This is illustrated in the chart above which compares median sales prices with median asking prices, and then with the median prices of expired listings that were ultimately pulled from the market without selling.

 

Various Economic Indicators
Bay Area Employment & Unemployment Rates

The lowest unemployment rates in 15 years, but the picture in hiring and
new high-tech hiring in particular, is a bit unclear with recent shifts up and down.

S&P 500 Stock Index

Maybe some irrational exuberance at play since the election?

Housing Affordability

Perhaps the biggest social, economic and political issue in the Bay Area right now: Remaining close to all-time lows

San Francisco, Alameda & Marin Rents

Rents in all 3 counties ticked back up in Q1 after recent declines, but too much should not be made of this until substantiated over a longer term than 1 quarter

Mortgage Interest Rates

Up after the election, down since the new year began, rates remain extremely low by historical standards

S&P Case-Shiller House Price Index
Another Angle on Bay Area Home Price Appreciation Trends

According to Case-Shiller, which divides sales into 3 price tiers and measures Bay Area home price appreciation using its own proprietary algorithm (instead of median sales prices): In the period from April 2016 through February 2017 (its most recent report), less expensive homes appreciated by 7% during the period; mid-priced homes appreciated by 3%; and high-priced homes remained flat over the 11 months. Over the last year or two, the greatest pressure of buyer demand in the Bay Area has shifted to the more affordable home segment. Again, the first chart in this report highlights this dynamic in San Francisco.

C-S numbers all refer to a January 2000 home price set at 100. Thus, a reading of 249 signifies a price 149% over than of January 2000.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this report, or if assistance can be provided in any other way, please call or email.

Our full article on market cycles: 30+ Years of San Francisco Real Estate Cycles

All our analyses can be found here: Paragon Market Reports

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific, tailored, comparative market analysis.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

© 2017 Paragon Real Estate Group


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A consideration of the main factors at play behind the current San Francisco real estate market, some of which reflect general macro-economic trends and some of which are specific to the city itself. As we’ve seen in 1989, 2001 and 2008, many of these factors can stall or go into reverse very quickly in the event of a large, negative, economic, political or even ecological event.

In 2016, the market in San Francisco started to cool off somewhat after 4 years of a ferociously high-demand/low-supply dynamic. By any national standard, it is still a strong market, especially in the more affordable price segments, but it has distinctly changed with listing inventory increasing and buyer demand softening. The influx of newly constructed condos have affected the condo market most of all, especially the luxury condo market.

  • Population growth vs. New Construction: San Francisco has recently been adding approximately 10,000 – 12,000 new residents per year. New construction is booming again in the city, and tens of thousands of new housing units are now somewhere in the planning and construction pipeline. Thousands of new condos and apartments (mostly at the high end of prices) hitting the market have been affecting the supply and demand dynamic, with both condo prices and apartment rents ticking down from 2015 highs – especially in those districts where new construction is concentrated. It will be interesting to see how influx continues to affect the market as more inventory arrives. There is no question that the city continues to suffer from a grievous lack of more affordable housing.

  • Employment growth: San Francisco has recently hit new highs in the number of employed residents and its unemployment rate is as low as it has ever been. Many of these new jobs – in high tech, bio tech and professional occupations – are very well paid. Approximately 14,000 units of housing have been built in San Francisco since 2010. Over the same 6 years, the number of employed residents has increased by about 100,000. In light of the mismatch between supply and demand, the pressure on housing prices is not surprising. Employment actually dropped in the first 6 months of 2016 and then surged again in mid-summer to its highest point ever.

  • Stock market upswing: Though there was some major volatility in the period from autumn 2015 through autumn 2016, adding in the recent surge after the election, the S&P 500 is way, way up from 2011. The affluent have benefited most from this large increase in the value of financial assets, and San Francisco has one of the most affluent populations in the country. When people feel wealthier, they spend more on homes, second homes and real estate investment properties. However, we believe much of the local affluent population has become somewhat more cautious with all the extreme volatility – China stock market, oil price crash, Brexit, the 2016 election – that has occurred in the stock market over the past 20 months.

 

  • Brand new wealth: Thousands of newly affluent residents, including significant numbers of millionaires and even billionaires, have been created in the Bay Area in recent years from stock options, IPOs and company sales. This super-charged the “wealth effect” on the real estate market from 2011 through mid-2015. According to Wealth-X, San Francisco ranks 3rd in the nation for number of “ultra-high-net-worth” residents. However, since mid-2015, there have been very few new IPOs, so the dynamic creation of huge amounts of brand new wealth has slowed. On the other hand, the Bay Area is still full of large start-ups like Uber, Airbnb and Palantir, which certainly have the potential to go public in the not too distant future, and start minting, once again, new millionaires by the dozens or even hundreds. It’s also interesting to note that: “San Francisco ranks first among U.S. cities in income mobility, i.e. the opportunity to rise upward on the income scale thanks to its schools, its growing economy and its compact physical size that doesn’t produce walled-off divisions.” (San Francisco: a city pushed to new limits and opportunities)
  • High rents: Purchasing a home in San Francisco, with the attendant multiple tax benefits, being able to take advantage of low interest rates, and equity accrual (as well as the possibility of future appreciation), often makes compelling financial sense if the alternative is to pay an extraordinarily high rent (with none of those benefits). SF rents started to plateau in mid-2015 and have dropped a little in 2016 and early 2017, but they are still the highest in the country.

  • Low interest rates: from 1996 to 2006, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate loan was approximately 6.3%. By late July 2016, it was running under 3.5%, and as of late-March 2017, it was running about 4.2%. Even after the relatively big post-election jump, the large reduction, 2007 to present, in the cost of financing has made an enormous difference in affordability and the ongoing cost of housing. To a significant degree, declines in interest rates to these near-historic lows have subsidized increases in home prices. It is extremely difficult to predict interest rate movements, but if rates continue to rise appreciably, it will certainly affect housing affordability.

  • Renting instead of selling: Very high rents and very low interest rates have convinced some owners who would have sold their homes to rent them out instead, and the Airbnb rent-to-tourists option is probably adding to this (even if in many instances, it violates city statutes.) As an adjunct to the financial calculation for renting instead of selling, we are also hearing from some owners that they are afraid that if they sell now, they or their children will never be able to afford to move back. All this further depresses the supply of new listings coming on market, exacerbating the inventory shortage. This is particularly true of houses in San Francisco, of which virtually no new ones are being built. (Condo construction is booming, and condo owners have a tendency to move much more often.) Not selling as frequently: According to a November 2016 report by ATTOM Data Solutions, “homeowners who sold in the third quarter [of 2016] had owned their home an average of 7.94 years, a new high in our data and substantially higher than the average homeownership tenure of 4.26 years pre-recession.” This big decline in turnover goes a long way to explaining the extremely low inventory levels of homes on the market: Owners are selling much less often.
  • Work there, live here: A relatively recent development, many of the people working or taking new jobs in Silicon Valley high-tech and bio-tech now insist on living in the city, creating what might be called a “reverse commute” from past patterns. The Google bus phenomenon (picking up employees in the city and ferrying them to offices in Mountain View) is just one illustration of a trend which puts considerable additional pressure on our housing market.
  • Magnet effect: Economic, social, cultural: San Francisco, a small city of 7 by 7 miles, is now the capital of perhaps the strongest, fastest growing, most lucrative, highest-prestige business segment in country: The Bay Area economy is the envy of the world. San Francisco is also in one of the most beautiful, best educated, most tolerant and culturally rich metropolitan areas in the world. That makes the city a magnet for smart, creative, ambitious people from all over the planet and they are willing to pay a premium to live here. (Of course, at certain levels of housing costs, people and companies start to look for alternatives, even if they’d much prefer to be located in SF. And that doesn’t begin to address the issue of teachers, police officers and so many other employment profiles, who can’t begin to think about affording to buy a home here.) There has clearly been a general demographic trend for post-college adults, aged 24 – 39, to move back into urban core areas – and that certainly is dramatically occurring in San Francisco. (See the books, “The Great Inversion & the Future of the American City” and “Who’s Your City? How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.”)
  • Limited supply: Almost two thirds of the city’s housing is in rental units, much of it under rent control. The number of homes suitable for owner-occupancy and available to purchase each year is relatively small, usually 6,000 to 8,000 units. The SF homes market is less than half the size of the markets in either Alameda or Contra Costa counties.Furthermore, new housing construction simply has not been adequate to the city’s needs over the past 35 years. 49% of San Francisco’s housing stock was built prior to 1940. As seen in the chart below, the surge in population during WW II led to a burst of building, which then steadily declined to clearly insufficient levels until the big increase in condo construction at the end of the 1990’s. The 2008 market crash ended that cycle, and the current feverish boom in home construction has been quickly gathering steam only in the past few years – however, as increasing volumes of new-construction housing units come on market, it has been significantly altering the supply and demand dynamic that has prevailed 2012 – 2015. Worth noting is that ever since the mid-1990’s the units being built are typically 1 or 2-bedroom condos or apartments, instead of 2 and 3-bedroom houses, i.e. the new housing units being added accommodate fewer people per unit. Our report on new housing construction in San Francisco is here: SF Housing Inventory & Construction Report

Tax benefits: We won’t count this as one of the 10 factors behind the current market, because the enormous tax benefits of homeownership in the U.S. are always present, boom or bust (until Congress legislates large, unexpected changes to U.S. tax law), but still they are a big factor underlying the housing market. Being able to deduct interest costs and property taxes allows homes to cost (much) more and yet remain affordable to buyers. And there is also the $250,000/ $500,000 exclusion of gains realized upon sale of a primary residence from capital gains taxes: There is not another financial investment we can think of that allows one to reap profits of this magnitude without any tax liability. It’s interesting to note that the tax benefits of homeownership in this country are rarely found anyplace else in the world.

This chart below is a simplified, smoothed-out and approximate look at the last few real estate cycles in the San Francisco Bay Area, illustrating estimated percentage changes in home prices from successive peaks and bottoms of the market. The years between these high/low points are simply depicted here as straight lines (which does not reflect reality). Different market segments – areas, property types, price segments – have experienced varying appreciation and depreciation rates over the years and how this chart applies to any specific property is unknown without a tailored analysis.

We want to reiterate that none of this implies justification for an ever-appreciating real estate market: Almost all these factors can stall or even go into reverse, and as mentioned earlier, in 2016, conditions began to cool. Real estate and financial markets are prone to a wide variety of extremely complex and hard-to-predict economic and political factors, and they typically go in cycles: up, down, flat, up again (repeat). And economic and market fluctuations are not uncommon within cycle phases. Still, the above factors are, we believe, the fundamental realities underpinning the city’s homes market in recent years.

San Francisco’s real estate market is now heading into the beginning of its 6th year of its current market recovery since the crash and recession that ran 2008 – 2011.

Our full report on real estate cycles is here: 30+ Years of San Francisco Real Estate Cycles


In recent months, there have been multiple reports in local media about Big Drops in San Francisco Home Prices! But, umm, we are not seeing it, neither on the ground in the hurly burly of buyers and sellers making deals, nor in the year-over-year quarterly statistics of supply and demand. News articles often make a big deal regarding the median sales price in a single month, but monthly data is often gravely deficient as an indicator, fluctuating up and down without much meaningfulness due to a number of factors. January and February are particularly bad months to draw conclusions from: The lowest sales volumes of the year, reflecting deals negotiated during the December-January market doldrums, with weather issues sometimes thrown in besides (for instance, in early 2017). Last but not least, the media often mixes property types to come up with a single median sales price, and that is generally not a good idea either.

This chart above illustrates San Francisco quarterly median sales price movements since 2012, which, as one can see, is also prone to significant fluctuation. In Q1 2017, the median house price basically plateaued year over year, while the median condo price actually increased from Q1 2016. (Historically, it is not unusual for Q1 median prices to drop from Q4 due to seasonal reasons, mainly the characteristic big slowdown of luxury home sales in mid-winter.) Q1 is the quarter of the year with the least number of closed sales, so too much should not be made of its data, but we have summarized annual Q1 dynamics for the past 4 years in the 2 charts below. For context, remember that 2014 and 2015 were particularly feverish markets. A much better assessment of the direction of the 2017 market will be possible after Q2 data is in: March through June is usually the most active selling season of the year.

Year-over-Year Comparisons of Q1 Statistics

Chart 1: San Francisco House Market Overview

Chart 2: San Francisco Condo Market Overview

Annual Median House Sales Price Trends:
5 Selected San Francisco Neighborhoods, since 2004

Generally speaking, in higher priced areas, median house prices have been plateauing or dropping a little, while the more affordable neighborhoods have continued to appreciate: This is a relatively common dynamic around the Bay Area.

The only way to assess value or appreciation for a particular home is by performing a comparative market analysis tailored to its specific location, condition and circumstances. Of all the neighborhoods graphed above, the Marina has by far the fewest house sales and the widest range of individual home sales prices, so it is most susceptible to median price fluctuations caused by other factors besides changes in value – for example, a substantial change in the listings available to purchase in a given year. We do not believe that the same Marina house selling in 2015 would have sold for 15% less in 2016: something less, perhaps; 15% less, very unlikely. This is a good illustration of the dangers of making too much of median sales price changes.

If you would like median home price trends for another San Francisco neighborhood, please let us know.

Average Sales Price to Original List Price Percentage

By Month: House, Condo, Co-op, TIC & 2-4 Unit Building Sales

As seen in this chart, overbidding typically heats up as the market moves into spring. So far, this year has been no exception, though the overbidding percentages are somewhat lower than in recent years.

Annual Market Trends

For clarity and meaningfulness, we much prefer annual trend analyses, with their much bigger data sets, and have recently completed a comprehensive review of virtually every statistic we could think of on that basis. Doing so allows us to stand back to see the broader view of what is happening in the market, instead of getting obsessed by what happens to be in front of our shoe. Looking at annual trends, virtually all the market statistics illustrate the same general conclusion: The market became progressively stronger coming out of the 2009-2011 housing recession; the frenzy peaked in 2015; and the market cooled a bit in 2016, condos more so than houses. This is a generalization of the macro-trend: Different market segments have been going in somewhat different directions and speeds in the city and around the Bay Area in the past year or so.

Below are a few of the many analyses. The full review is here: Long-Term Annual Trends in San Francisco Real Estate

First 2 charts: The hotter the market, the greater the percentage of listings that sell quickly, and the more ferocious the competitive bidding on those listings.

Even with some cooling, the overbidding on appealing new listings has remained quite dramatic: Our current percentages over asking would stun anyone from almost any other market in the country. (However, underpricing has also become a more common strategy here than in other markets.)

Annual Trends Chart 3: As a market begins to cool, the number of listings that expire or are withdrawn without selling increases. This is typically due to increasing supply, softening demand, sellers looking for more money than buyers are willing to pay, or all three.

Annual Trends Charts 4 & 5: As new condos and new rental apartments came on the market in greater numbers in the past year, it cooled those two market segments, much more so than the house segment, of which hardly any are built new in the city anymore. (The more affordable house market in the city has remained remarkably hot.) The rental market was affected most as more new rental units came on market than at any time since WWII: Though SF still has the highest rents in the country, they have dropped from their peak in 2015.

Chart 6: To a large degree due to big changes in tenant eviction and condo conversion laws, the TIC market has gone through a large decline in sales volume. It is also true that after decades of turning multi-unit buildings into condos and TICs, the supply of such properties available to do so has declined. Generally speaking, TIC median sales prices plateaued from 2015 to 2016 at about 14% below the median condo price.

San Francisco Luxury Home Market

Three sample charts from our big report on the high-priced home segment. Generally speaking, the luxury market has cooled more than the more affordable segments, and the luxury condo market has cooled more than the luxury house market. This is mostly due to the recent surge of new-construction luxury condos onto the market in the city.

The first two charts below are snapshots of either the house or condo segment of the luxury market in two of our major districts.

This next chart illustrates one of the bigger changes in SF high-end home markets. Many more listings, resale luxury condos in particular, are expiring or being withdrawn from the market without selling.

Our full report is here: Luxury Home Market of San Francisco

Interest Rates

Constantly shifting economic and political factors continue to affect rates: Mortgage interest rates are significantly up since the election, fluctuating up and down since the year began, but still far below historical norms. This is a factor everyone is watching carefully because of its potential impact on affordability, already a big issue in the Bay Area.

Apartment Building (Multi-Unit Residential) Sales

We have also released our quarterly report on the multi-unit residential property markets of San Francisco, Marin and Alameda Counties: Bay Area Apartment Building Market. Below is one of its many analyses.

All our reports can be found on our redesigned website: Paragon Market Reports

Using, Understanding and Evaluating Real Estate Statistics

If you will forgive a little celebrating on our part: In the last two quarters, Paragon sold more San Francisco residential and multi-unit residential real estate than any other brokerage (as reported to MLS, per Broker Metrics), even though we have far fewer agents than many of our competitors.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this report, or if assistance can be provided in any other way, please call or email.

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific comparative market analysis, which we are happy to provide upon request.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

© 2017 Paragon Real Estate Group


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Below are 3 charts from our updated 9-chart report that breaks down which neighborhoods one is most likely to find a home within a specific price range, whether house or condo. The report covers homes from under $1 million to over $5 million.

If you want to buy a house under a million dollars, one is now mostly limited to the neighborhoods that run across the southern border of San Francisco.

The full report is here: San Francisco Neighborhood Affordability

What Can I Buy for $1,200,000 or $2,000,000?
Below are illustrations of the wide range of homes (and, to some degree, lifestyles) one might buy at two different price points in the city. The higher a home is located on the vertical axis of the charts, the greater its square footage. (Note that the bathroom specifications can be a little screwy, for example 1.3 or 1.7 baths, because these are averages of homes sold at these approximate price points.)

$1,200,000 is approximately the median home price in San Francisco if one combines both houses and condos. For that price, one could buy a 4-bedroom, 2135 square foot house in Ingleside or Oceanview, or a 3-bedroom, 1566 square foot house in Outer Parkside, or a 2-bedroom, 1070 square foot condo in Pacific Heights.

For $2 million, one could purchase a gracious 4-bedroom, 2650 square foot, detached house on a large lot in Forest Hill, or a classic 2-level, 3-bedroom, 1900 square foot condo with a garden in the Marina, or a 2-bedroom, 1350 square foot, luxury high-rise condo with spectacular views in South Beach.

Quick Market Update
December through February constitute the slowest sales months of the year and are subject to significant seasonal issues, so coming to definitive conclusions about where the market is heading based on their data is difficult. However, for what it is worth, comparing the 3-month period to the same period a year ago, the median house sales price at $1,290,000 is up 4.5% and the median condo sales price at $1,050,000 is down 4.1%. As mentioned in earlier reports, the big dynamic affecting the condo market has been the surge of new-construction inventory hitting the market in the past year, just as demand started to soften. The inventory of new condos for sale is now at its highest level in 7 years, and, not surprisingly, this is impacting the supply and demand dynamic for condos, especially in those districts where new construction is concentrated. On the other hand, the inventory of house listings continues to remain at record lows, keeping that market, especially its more affordable segments, quite competitive.

This chart below reflects the latest Case-Shiller Home Price Index for the 5-county metro area house market, going through the end of 2016. It illustrates how in 2016, more affordably-priced houses continued to appreciate significantly, while the most expensive segment basically plateaued. Generally speaking, this is a common dynamic around the Bay Area.

San Francisco Median Home Price Trends since 1994
For a longer-term perspective

New Listings Begin Pouring onto the Market Again

The period of March through May is usually the most active selling season of the year, and we will soon have more conclusive indications of where the 2017 market is headed. This next chart illustrates the typical, dramatic surge of new inventory that fuels sales during this season.

San Francisco Home Sales with Views
SF is a city known for its wide variety of gorgeous views, which can add substantially to the value of a home so graced. Of all the house sales in 2016, only 88 reported having a Golden Gate Bridge view, and some of those were peek-a-boo views (i.e. if you lean out the bathroom window on the top floor) or roof deck views. A full-on, panoramic view of the GG Bridge from Pacific Heights adds over $1 million to the median house price there. Unsurprisingly, condos have the most, and most spectacular, views due to high-rise condo projects.

San Francisco Home Sales by Bedroom Count

Renting vs. Buying in San Francisco

Comparing the purchase, with 20% down, of a 2-bedroom/2-bath condo with the rental of a comparable apartment in San Francisco.

Every year or so, we like to update this analysis using current median sales prices and average rents for comparable 2-bedroom condos and apartments. Rent vs. buy calculations can be performed a wide variety of ways, and results will depend on your own financial circumstances and economic projections, which you should review with your accountant. There is a versatile calculator published by The New York Times, where one can play with all the financial factors involved: NYT Rent vs. Buy Calculator. Our analysis represents simply one scenario, which is meant to be more of an invitation to perform your own calculations than a definitive conclusion on the subject.

Depending on your circumstances, plans and predictions for the future, renting may well be the best choice for you. However, low interest rates, high rents, loan principal pay-down over time, inflation and appreciation rates, and the large tax benefits that accrue to homeownership typically give a large long-term financial advantage to buying, if you have the funds for the cash down-payment. (Of course, as with any investment, financial results will ultimately depend on your purchase and sale dates.) This next chart compares net monthly housing costs between renting and buying after tax deductions and principal repayment are accounted for. Our full report goes into much greater detail, such as the accumulation of wealth, in the form of home equity, over time. Please contact me if you would like a copy.

Other recent Paragon reports you might find interesting:

A Comprehensive Survey of the 2016 Market in San Francisco
San Francisco Luxury Homes Market Report
A Survey of Real Estate Markets around the Bay Area
Bay Area & San Francisco Home Price Maps

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific comparative market analysis, which we are happy to provide upon request.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

© 2017 Paragon Real Estate Group


Comparing the PURCHASE of a 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 1080 square foot condo at the
2016 median San Francisco sales price of $1,150,000, to the RENTAL of a comparable apartment at a San Francisco market rate of approx. $4,400 to $4,600/month rent

Median sales price per 2016 MLS sales; monthly rent based on averaging Zillow,
RealFacts & Rent Jungle asking rent data in late 2016/early 2017

Rent vs. buy calculations depend on a wide variety of financial data and projections –prevailing and future interest, property tax, inflation, home-appreciation and investment-return rates – as well as data pertinent to you and your specific purchase, such as your marginal income tax rate and how long you plan to stay in the home you purchase. Altering any of these factors can change the calculation significantly. And, of course, one could not consider buying under the scenario below if one did not have the cash for the initial down-payment and closing costs.

We have tried to be conservative in our projections, for example, putting in an annual home appreciation rate of 3%, when for the last 30 years, San Francisco has seen an average, compounding appreciation rate of 5 to 6%. (Since 2011, the SF median house price has appreciated about 90%.) However, appreciation rates vary enormously in shorter time periods, and can go negative in downturns, such as occurred in 2008, and the ability to ride out down markets can make a big difference in financial returns. We believe we have used similarly conservative inflation and investment-return rates, and used the prevailing average, conforming mortgage interest rate in February 2017.

How long you plan to stay in the home you purchase is an important factor, because the longer you stay, the more of your monthly mortgage payment goes to principal pay-down, and the longer the period of amortization of closing costs.

The below calculations were created using a calculator Paragon licenses from a third party. We strongly recommend that you consult your accountant or financial planner to discuss your financial situation, potential tax advantages and other specific pros and cons of purchase as they relate to your situation. What follows is only one scenario and should not be relied upon to make important decisions.The New York Times also has a very flexible rent vs. buy calculator, which allows you to put in your own data, rate projections, and purchase scenarios: NYT Rent vs. Buy Calculator.

The Purchase Scenario and Financial Parameters

Estimated Loan Information

Your total monthly housing payment was estimated at $6,239.38. Your down payment was estimated at $230,000 purchasing a home priced at $1,150,000. This is for a 30 year mortgage at 4.2% in the amount of $920,000. Your total purchase closing costs are estimated at $16,800.00 (about 1.5% of the purchase price).

In the analysis, the current monthly market rent is set at $4,400. The expected inflation rate of 2% annually was used to estimate future rent ($4,488 in the second year) and property taxes (though in California, increases in property taxes are strictly limited due to Prop 13 regulations). The rate of return used for the investment of down-payment monies by renters was 3% per year after taxes – obviously, this will vary widely by type of investment and time period. (If one had their money in CDs, one could only dream of an after-tax return of 3% in recent years. On the other hand, stocks have had a terrific run.)

After adjusting for your initial tax saving based on interest and property tax deductibility, and for the principal pay-down portion of your monthly housing cost, your net housing cost payment is reduced from $6,286 to $3,867, well below the market rate rent for a similar apartment of $4,400 to $4,600.

Note that with condo ownership, the greatest portion of home insurance cost is covered in the monthly HOA association dues & maintenance. For a 2BR/2BA condo, these dues typically run $350 to $550; we added a little bit to the calculation to cover the personal property portion of the insurance not covered by the HOA policy.

According to the above calculation, using the specified rates of appreciation, inflation and investment returns, your home purchase breaks even in approximately 2.7 years.

This is based on your home’s estimated equity minus 6% closing costs when you sell your home. It also assumes your home will appreciate at 3% per year and you have an income tax rate of 25%. If you cannot remain in your home for at least 3 years you should strongly consider continuing to rent.

The breakeven point was calculated by examining how long it would take to create enough equity in your home to exceed the value of investing your cash on hand (at 3% after-tax return). We also accounted for differences in your monthly rent and house payments.

Building Equity

Typically, by far the most important financial advantage of buying is the increase in home equity (and your net worth) over time, as is calculated in the last column below. Firstly, there is the monthly reduction of your loan amount, which increases your home equity. Secondly, there is the effect of inflation/home appreciation on the value of your home over time. Since the purchase was made using a 20% cash down-payment, there is also the significant financial advantage of leverage: When home values go up 10%, the increase in your cash down-payment is approximately 50% (though there is an adjustment for closing costs).

It’s worth noting that with a fixed rate mortgage rate (and Prop 13 limitations on property tax rate increases), one’s housing costs stay relatively stable over time, while rents typically continue to increase much more quickly. As the years pass, this can add substantially to the benefit of buying.

As mentioned earlier, the New York Times also has an excellent rent vs. buy calculator: NYT Rent vs. Buy Calculator. We could not use screenshots due to copyright law, however when we ran a very similar scenario through its calculator, based on living in the condo purchased for 5 years, it came to the conclusion that if you could rent a similar home to one you were buying (for $1,150,000), at a rent of $3,700 per month or less, then you should probably rent. That is, it came to a very similar conclusion to the calculator we used above, that with a market rent in the $4,400 to $4,600 range, buying was an option worth serious consideration.

The NYT also published this excellent editorial on the financial implications of homeownership: NYT Homeownership & Wealth Creation

Typically, the purchase of a new home is one of the largest financial transactions and investments of one’s life. Whatever home you purchase should work for you now—fulfilling your basic housing requirements at an affordable monthly cost. We also suggest retaining enough monies after purchase for a sufficient reserve fund.

Historically, San Francisco real estate has generally proven to be an excellent investment over the longer term (and sometimes, over the shorter term, such as if you had purchased in 2011 and sold today). This is due to the advantages of leverage (the ability to finance much of the purchase); the significant tax benefits of home ownership; economic, demographic and geographic conditions in the city; and long-term appreciation trends. Among other things, real estate is usually considered one of the best hedges against inflation.

If one doesn’t “refinance out” increasing home equity, home ownership (as you pay down the principal balance on your mortgage month by month) typically acts as a “forced” savings account to build household wealth, as mentioned in the NYT editorial referenced above. In addition, the $250,000/$500,000 tax exemption on capital gains on the sale of your principal residence can supercharge the financial return when you do sell. (We cannot think of another investment with this advantage.)

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How long do you plan to own the home you wish to purchase? Buying and selling in the short term always entails more risk and makes it more difficult to recoup closing costs on purchase and sale.
  • Are current interest rates advantageous for buyers? Lower interest rates make an enormous difference in the ongoing costs of homeownership (and your return on investment). A long-term fixed rate at a low interest rate is hugely advantageous to buyers.
  • Apropos of this rent vs. buy analysis: How does the cost of home ownership, with existing tax benefits, compare to renting? How does it compare in the calculation of building your financial assets over time?
  • How important is it to you to own the home you live in, with all that implies—security, control, pride of ownership, the ability to make changes and improvements according to your own tastes and needs?

Any investment has both potential risks and rewards—which only you can weigh according to your financial circumstances, your tolerance for risk, your timeline, and your projection of future economic trends. If you have to sell during a down market, the financial ramifications can be negative. Please consult your accountant for a more detailed analysis of the above factors.

This report was created in good faith using data and analytical tools deemed reliable, but it may contain errors and is subject to revision. It is not meant to convince anyone to do anything, but to simply provide additional decision-making tools and information. Ultimately, the end result of any investment will depend on the exact purchase and sell dates.

Information and interactive calculators are made available to you as self-help tools for your independent use and are not intended to provide investment advice. We cannot and do not guarantee their applicability or accuracy in regards to your individual circumstances. All examples are hypothetical and are for illustrative purposes. Tax law can change at any time, which could impact the calculations provided above. We encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals – accountants, financial planners, and loan agents – regarding all personal finance, tax and loan issues.

© 2017 Paragon Real Estate Group


Mary is the perfect agent to help anyone navigate the treacherous SF real estate market. Her knowledge of all products is very deep, and her attention to detail is amazing. Most critically, not only will you enjoy working with her, but other agents love working with her, too. This is invaluable in any transaction. I would recommend Mary on the buy side or sell side of any property sale.
~Robert Hatton, multi-unit building owner and SF landlord