I'm not sure anyone popped any bubbly to remember the 10th anniversary of one particular peak of the housing bubble.
In June 2007, Orange County median home selling price hit $645,000 — a high point near the end of that era's crazy, risky lending and home buying insanity. In less than two years, a violent downturn slashed the typical local home's value almost in half.
Last year, that old peak was topped and this year's continued run-up pushed the median to $695,000 in June, an 8 percent rise above the previous record set 10 years ago.
But other than this historic milestone, does beating the old pinnacle mean the market has fully recovered? Or ominously speaking, is it a signal that pricing once again has suspect fundamentals?
My review of Orange County housing conditions now and a decade ago from several data sources — CoreLogic, ReportsOnHousing, California Association of Realtors, National Association of Home Builders, PropertyRadar, state employment records and Freddie Mac — shows far different market conditions today vs. 2007.
Yes, the countywide median home price is $50,000 higher than the previous peak. But not every benchmark, market niche or neighborhood has enjoyed the same rebound. And the mere fact that a widely watched broad metric of pricing has exceeded the peak of 2007 doesn't signal a similar fate for property owners in this cycle.
So 10 years later, here are a dozen reasons why local housing isn't as crazy today as it was then.
1. Geography: At the neighborhood level, prices in June were above June 2007 levels in only 55 of 83 Orange County ZIP codes. That's no full recovery in roughly one-third of the market. Communities still below June 2007 include a diverse slice of Orange County: parts of Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma, Lake Forest, Ladera Ranch, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Orange/Villa Park, San Clemente, Santa Ana and Seal Beach.
2. House size: Smaller, existing homes also have yet to fully recover. A decade later, the median selling price of homes less than 1,000 square feet is off 3 percent from June 2007. Houses from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet? Off 1 percent. Bigger house prices are back above June 2007, with the mid-range property — 1,500-to-2,000 square feet — leading the way with a 5 percent gain.
3. Cheaper homes: While the median of 2007 and of this year are relatively the same, the composition of what buyers paid is not. Remember, the median is the mid-point of all homes sold. But it says nothing about the mix above and below. This year, Orange County homes priced below $600,000 made up 34 percent of all sales vs. 41 percent in June 2007. (Conversely, above $700,000: 50 percent now, 43 percent then!) This reflects today's shortage of lower-priced options and confirms the notion that the lower-end of the market hasn't fully recovered.
4. Mortgage payments: The check sent to the lender has shrunk. The typical Orange County home buyer who financed their deal had an estimated monthly house payment of $3,245 in June. That's $168 a month less — or 5 percent — than in June 2007. You can thank cheaper mortgage rates for much of that improvement as the average 30-year, fixed-rate loan has fallen to 3.9 percent from 6.7 percent in 10 years. And note that 18 percent of buyers a decade ago were all-cash vs. 31 percent in June 2017.
5. Adjustable-rate borrowing: In case you forgot, one thing that boosted home prices a decade ago was risky loans made to borrowers with limited ability to pay. One example was scores of house hunters using variable-rate financing. In June 2007, 54 percent of Orange County buyers who financed used adjustable-rate mortgages. In June 2017? Only 18 percent. The past cycle's aggressive financing was key to vast overpricing of lower-priced homes. Why? Less-wealthy house hunters needed lenient loan qualifications to qualify.
6. Affordability: Yes, it's hard for a typical household to pay for an Orange County home today. It was worse in 2007. Look at it from two metrics: 21 percent of Orange County household could comfortably buy this spring vs. only 12 percent in 2007. Or, 14 percent of local homes were deemed "affordable" this year vs. 4.4 percent a decade ago. Remember, in a decade, mortgage rates are 2.8 percentage points lower and local median household incomes are 12 percent higher.
7. Volume: Nothing signals a shaky market more than rising prices and falling sales activity. The bubble era's sales peak was in 2005, and by the price peak in 2007, buying had pulled back by roughly half as lenders pared risk-taking and Orange County job growth stalled. After the recession ended, a local hiring spree re-energized house hunters, so much so June 2017's home sales were 44 percent above June 2007. Note: Current buying pace is still 30 percent slower than 2005's sales top.
8. Supply: At the bubble's peak, the market was flooded with motivated sellers. At the end of June 2007, there were 17,250 existing residences listed for sale in broker networks. That's almost triple the 5,936 available today. Of the last peak's huge supply, 11,298 residences were priced under $750,000, or nearly five times the 2,304 on the market at the end of June 2017. Due to that rush of low-end sellers, average listing price was $900,000 a decade ago vs. $1.6 million in 2017. And the bloated inventory made selling difficult: ReportsOnHousing's estimated in took nine months to sell a home in June 2007 vs. two months today!
9. Inflation: It was a sharp ride down from the bubble and swift bounce back in recovery. But the net results, prices going from peak to modestly higher and a new peak, look slim when pondering a decade's time — and doesn't include the impact of inflation on finances. If the Orange County median price had simply appreciated at the national rate of inflation since 2007, the median would have to top $758,000 to be at a new, inflation-adjusted record. So you could argue the broad market is still behind the economic curve.
10. Distressed property: Too much debt and too many layoffs pushed many homeowners to the financial brink. Owners rushed to sell as bankers hit the market with their repossessed properties. In June 2007, 13 percent of homes sales were either short sales — banks agreeing to take less than owed — or sales of foreclosed properties. That distressed share of selling would become roughly half of the market during the next five years. But by June 2017, that share settled back to just 7 percent. Fortunately, it's only a history lesson today. The supply of foreclosures to buy has shrunk from 463 in late June a decade ago to only 27 as this year's summer began.
11: Warning signs: Nothing screams "danger" more than owners skipping house payments. Ponder what lenders were doing in June 2007 vs. this past June. Default notices, a first step in foreclosure: 1,144 then, 310 today. Auction notices, the official threat to sell: 598 then, 213 today. Actual foreclosures: 281 then (and 1,084 in June 2008) vs. 21 today.
12. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Finally, no real estate analysis is complete without looking at employment trends. In May 2007, as the bubble was brewing, the Orange County job count fell on a year-over-year basis for the first time since 2002. Employment would fall for the next 38 consecutive months as the bubble burst into the Great Recession. Since August 2010, though, local employment has been up in 83 consecutive months. Yes, the recent hiring pace is as slow as it has been since the early days of the recovery ... but even more workers means more potential house hunters.
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