Mill Valley CA. Real Estate Report (November 2009 Home Sales)

We know from past experience that in down cycles, once the San Francisco housing market recovers, there is a domino effect on surrounding communities. Accordingly, in our current cycle, we believe that our best leading indicator regarding a healthy, appreciating market (particularly in Southern Marin) will be the home sales environment in San Francisco. And there can be no doubt that the San Francisco market has improved dramatically in recent months. Additionally, as the banking institutions regain their footing and again provide bonuses to their employees, we will also see a surge in luxury home sales. In fact, if bonuses are significant and broad-based, I predict a very strong luxury sales market early in 2010 as buyers snap up the many “values” out there in the luxury and ultra-luxury sectors.

Mill Valley will be first in line to benefit from this influx of local income. Meanwhile, however, the number of homes sold remains low. In October, we had just 20 home sales — virtually the same as in July, August, and September 2009. Many believe that the low number of sales is due in large part to a lack of “sexy inventory.”  And in fact, turnkey homes that are priced competitively and located in desirable areas sell FAST.  Meanwhile, homes with “challenges” in regard to location, condition, or price are simply not selling.

Sales prices seem to have gathered traction after a slippery first half of the year, last month’s price per square foot of homes sold was $565 (home sales prices have held steady in this general price per square foot range for months now). Of course, price per square foot is an often misleading indicator as applied to individual homes for several reasons (e.g., condition, location, usable yard space, and the size of the home — the larger the home, the lower the price per square foot). Indeed, a nice home in Sycamore Park may sell for $750-$800 per square foot. It all depends on the various factors in play.

Note that the graph below tracks asking prices and the average price per square foot for homes on the market is rising. It is currently approximately $620 per square foot. It remains to be seen whether this rise will translate into higher sales prices.

Real Estate Market Chart by Altos Research

Based on last month’s sales total of 20, we currently have an overall inventory of homes sufficient to last 5.3 months (slightly lower than last month) — this is called the absorption rate. This is still a HUGE reduction from the absorption rate from May 2009, which stood at well over 8 months.

The number of homes in escrow is up by about 11% from last month. We think there are many real buyers out there who have been waiting for “a sign” to buy — we don’t know what that sign will be (there are likely to be many “signs”), but we feel it will likely come soon.

In fact, the percentage of homes in escrow has risen to 55% in the bottom price band (under $800,000). This indicates that Mill Valley’s low end market is becoming very competitive and that fact bodes well. In Novato, for example, we believe the bottom began to form in April 2009 when it’s low end market began to see escrow ratios over 50% (Novato’s entry level price band has since reached over 80% of homes in escrow in what has become a very tight market). Since then, Novato’s overall market has become increasingly hotter across all price bands. I believe if Mill Valley follows suit, we will see a marked increase in sales over the next few months, particularly if San Francisco firms begin providing bonuses again in the New Year. Remember, last year, there were no bonuses and as a result (at least in part), we had a flat-lining market for the first 5 months of the year.

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