Cold Hard Numbers


(This is a somewhat redacted letter I've been sending out now for about four months)

I have recently attended a talk by Gregory Smith, the county assessor, on the future of home values in San Diego. He expects prices to continue to rise by 5-10% per year, citing scarcity as the reason. Basically, too few homes are being built, so we are in a situation with excess demand and not enough supply.

Now, public officials of the county of San Diego have an incentive to want prices to continue to rise. I tried to ask him a question about any other factors holding the price up, and he was unable to produce any.

Unfortunately for this point of view, high demand and scarce supply has a long history in the San Diego area. This has been a constant of the market, rather than a variable, since the late 1970s. Even during the last downturn, the problem was not a lack of interested buyers, the problem was that they couldn't afford the prices when interest rates went up. Sellers had a choice of selling at the prices people were able to qualify for or not at all. Many chose the latter option, it paid off in spades when interest rates fell and prices started rising again. Those in situations where waiting was not an option had no choice but to sell at lower prices.

The fact is that only 9% of the people can afford to purchase a home in San Diego. Even for wealthy investors who put $100,000 down on a $500,000 home with the intent of renting it out, their monthly cash requirements are $2528 to cover a 6.5% loan, plus approximately $500 per month to cover basic property taxes and then insurance, maintenance, etcetera on the property. Unless rents are well in excess of $3000 per month, which they are not, this amounts to investing $100,000 only to have to invest more every month in hopes that the market rise will eventually reimburse you. I agree with every respectable real estate investing guide that negative cash flow on an investment property is a recipe for disaster. This current situation in real estate has many parallels to the dot com investing bubble of several years ago.

Furthermore, we have many people who obtained short-term financing in the last several years, loans that must be refinanced within the next eighteen months, and will not be able to obtain terms that are as good or allow their adjustable rate loans to adjust. Either way, they are facing higher payments - payments that many are unlikely to be able to make. They will either sell voluntarily for what they can get, or involuntarily as the lender liquidates a nonperforming loan.

Even though long term rates are still remarkably affordable, short term financing, particularly on a "Stated Income" basis has become more prevalent for purchases, especially for beginning buyers, and these have risen enough to slow the market greatly. We are starting to see indications of a buyers market now. Homes are taking much longer to sell, and buyers are getting much more leverage on their offers. When longer term rates return to their historical margins above short, the effect will multiply. It doesn't take a genius - only a calculator - to know that when owner occupied rates go from 5.5% to 6.5%, somebody who could afford a $400,000 loan at 5.5% can only afford $359,000 at 6.5% (this difference is magnified for those willing to take interest only loans).

What does this mean to you, a homeowner? If you intend to hold onto your home for many years, I am confident that the market will eventually make good any short term correction. On the other hand, now is the time to secure the long term financing that enables you to hold onto the property profitably, while the high price of comparable properties helps your equity picture. (omitted text here)

If you are in a situation where you know that you are going to need to sell within the next few years, the time to act is definitely now, lest you lose more of your precious built-up equity to the short-term vagaries of the market. This market is going to get much worse for sellers before it gets better. (omitted text here)

And if you're looking to move to a larger house soon, the time to act is now to leverage the market! Sell while the market is still high, knowing that when prices recede later, the money you get from the sale will help you buy more house for less! (omitted text here)

UPDATE: Today's mail had an invitation to a fundraising event for Mr. Smith's re-election, sent out by the realtors association. Nothing new, but it illustrates the fact that he's in the good graces of the realtors association. This doens't happen by accident


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 2, 2006 10:00 AM.

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