Taking the Temperatures of Bay Area Real Estate Markets

Across the Bay Area, how many listings sell without price reductions, how quickly do they sell, and at what percentage of asking price? What role does employment play in the real estate market? Which are the biggest and smallest county markets, and how do prices and rents compare?

The white-hot – some would say overheated – core of the Bay Area homes market is San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and the heat radiates out from there, diminishing as one gets further away. This core is defined by the incredible strength of the economy, much of it supercharged by the high-tech boom. However, there are also cultural and lifestyle factors, as well as what might be called the creativity/innovation-cluster effect, all of which have almost gravitational attractions. Indeed, San Francisco is almost a perfect example of the “super city” concept, drawing in people from all over the country and the world like a giant magnet.

Because it’s close and a (relatively) easy commute to these areas, and so affordable by comparison, Alameda County (which includes Oakland) is also crazy hot. Marin has a strong market but is less feverish, firstly because getting to Silicon Valley isn’t as easy – one has to fight one’s way across the whole city to get to Highways 101 and 280 south – secondly, because it’s a very wealthy and expensive county, so it doesn’t offer quite the attraction of big home price discounts, and perhaps thirdly, because Marin has the highest median age in the Bay Area (45 years), and much of the high-tech employment boom is characterized by (pre-family forming) youth who prefer a more urban environment.

As one gets further north, east and south of the inner core, the markets become less overheated: It’s not that these markets are weak – in fact, some are quite hot and they’ve all been strengthening for the last 3 years. It’s simply that they’re not characterized by a feeding frenzy of almost overwhelming demand meeting limited inventory. Except for sellers eager to maximize their homes’ sales prices, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It should be noted that many of the charts below reflect February sales data. Generally speaking, Bay Area markets have become significantly hotter as the calendar gets deeper into prime spring selling season.

Most of these charts speak for themselves, so we’ve kept commentary to a minimum.

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As an illustration of perhaps the Bay Area’s most important market dynamic, this chart below delineates new job creation over the past 6 years. In San Francisco, for example, there are over 95,000 more employed residents than in 2009, and according to the San Francisco Business Times (3/6/15), there are currently 8600 unfilled software engineer positions in the city. During the same 6-year period, approximately 10,000 new housing units were built in the city. That ratio of new employment to new housing equals a desperately competitive housing market.

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Other factors play important roles in the Bay Area markets – such as affluence and education levels – and many of these are assessed on a county by county basis in our 2014 report on San Francisco Bay Area Demographics.

And updated maps of comparative home values around the Bay Area can be found here:Bay Area Home Price Maps