Orange County real estate hit a milestone last month, reaching a pricing pinnacle for homes that was last seen nearly nine years ago.
CoreLogic reported Orange County’s median selling price for April was $645,000, same as the old high set in June 2007. As much as we’d like to forget the real estate turmoil in between these two dates, I figure it was worth a look deeper inside the data to see what history might teach us.
Remember, the old price high was set after an era of aggressive lending that gave previously unbankable house hunters access to the mortgage market. The rapid rise of those “subprime” mortgages, and their equally quick retreat, whipsawed Orange County housing – and the broader economy – in numerous ways.
In some ways, data from Orange County’s last boom time should be viewed as cooked numbers with little historical relevance. In other more important ways, housing’s fabulous heat-up and flame-out has plenty to teach us.
Here are five lessons learned from reviewing CoreLogic data from the two peaks:
1. House gambling was once chic. Unfortunately, we have no data on the quality of Orange County’s borrowers approved for purchase loans. But two snippets of CoreLogic’s mortgage data speak volumes about the different mindsets of buyers in 2007 and today.
In 2007, Orange County’s financed home purchases had an average 22 percent down vs. 20 percent in April. That’s no small difference.
The larger down payments from 2007 reflect the many buyers who used paper profits of previous deals to help close the next purchase. Today, with a limited move-up market, down-payment rates are slightly lower.
Also in 2007, 53 percent of the mortgages used to buy Orange County homes were riskier adjustable-rate deals. In April, the variable-rate loans had just a 16 percent share. Now, the 2007 adjustable loans proved to be good bets, payment-wise, as rates fell considerably the last eight-plus years. But that heavy use of adjustable loans shows risk-taking nature of that era’s buyers.
2. A median is a just benchmark. Orange County’s widely watched price index may be back to its old top, but that doesn’t mean most local homeowners experienced similar results.
I reviewed ZIP code pricing since June 2007, noting these local benchmarks are notoriously volatile. So I won’t make too much of the extremes: The largest percentage-point price gain since 2007 through April was 212 percent in Newport Beach 92662, while the biggest loss was 42 percent in Seal Beach 90740.
Using a wider prism, consider that 40 out of the county’s 83 ZIP codes – communities with 40 percent of April’s sales activity – had June 2007-to-April price moves of 10 percent or more – up or down.
That tells me that plenty of local home values are not at or near the old peak – some may be well above it!
3. Cheaper homes recovered slower. Of the 10 Orange County ZIPs with the largest price losses since June 2007, only one had a median price above the countywide $645,000.
That’s a perfect summation of one key way the bubble hit Orange County’s market a decade ago. Easy-qualifying loans were a boon to the typically cash-strapped house hunter who often targets more affordable communities. Those mortgages, huge mistakes in hindsight, helped balloon prices of lower-end homes.
Thus, after the crash, pricing in these communities were hit harder and have had a largest mountain to climb to get back to old peaks.
4. Biggest recoveries were in pricier neighborhoods. Eight of the 10 largest ZIP-level gains since June 2007 – and 10 of the top 12 – were Orange County communities with pricing above the countywide $645,000 median in April.
A decade ago, house hunters in pricier neighborhoods did not get as much relative help from overly generous lenders since they were usually highly qualified buyers to start with. As a result, easy-to-get mortgage money was not as critical to these markets and pricing in these neighborhoods typically did not tumble as far after real estate’s bubble burst.
In addition, once more normal lending returned – you know, the highly skeptical banker – buyers for these higher-priced homes did not miss the few-questions-asked mortgages as much. So the price rebound in these markets started sooner and has been more robust.
5. High-end suffered, too. Luxury housing often dances to its own beat, so it’s usually hard to decipher what pricing and sales volume trends really mean in Orange County housing’s stratosphere.
In June 2007, there were 11 ZIP codes with medians above $1 million representing 10 percent of that month’s sales volume. In April, there were just eight million-dollar ZIPs with only 5 percent of the closings.
My best guess is there is nothing really wrong with today’s high-end housing. This statistical gem is more about overzealous buying in 2007. It wasn’t just a problem in Orange County’s cheaper neighborhoods as homebuyers’ “irrational exuberance” went above seven-figures, too!
Contact the writer: [email protected]
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