Higher End Declines?

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Submitted by pfflyer on December 28, 2007 - 2:22pm

There is somewhat of a consensus here that the majority of properties will bottom out in 2009 or 2010. I'm looking in the 1.5-2.5M range. These seem to be lagging the declines seen elsewhere. Any observations? (Currently in the Pacific NW.)

Submitted by XBoxBoy on December 28, 2007 - 4:41pm.

While upper priced properties have been lagging, I'm not sure if it will stay that way. The credit crunch has hit the jumbo loans more than the low end loans. Consequently the number of sales in the high end seems to be dropping off rather steeply.

I think a lot of what happens depends on how hard it is to get jumbo loans this spring. There's lots of talk in the media about how the mortgage crisis is not going to be confined to sub-prime. At the same time there's talk about allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to accept larger loans. And then there's talk about foreigners cutting back on lending money to USA. Talk, talk, talk....

So, I'd argue that if jumbo loans continue to be difficult to get, and maybe even get more difficult to get, then the top end will start a quick decline. But if jumbo loans are easy to get this spring, then all bets of declining top end are off.

The problem is I find predicting the future a rather difficult endeavor. Will jumbos be tough to get in the spring? Beats me.


Submitted by SD Realtor on December 28, 2007 - 6:09pm.

I guess I don't agree that financing (jumbo loans) will be the driving force behind higher end homes depreciating due to the conforming limit being only 417k. It just is such a low limit that it affects buyers in a much lower strata more then those in the million dollar club.

If the conforming limit were say 800k then I may bite. With only 417k as the limit then you still have to come in with over 300k cash if you want to buy a 750k which is definitely not what I would call a high end home. You kinda see what I mean xbox?


In general high end homes > 1.5M have actually been coming down in price. There is alot less visibility to the phenomenah because of many factors, including less overall demand, DEFINITELY sticky sticky sellers, and a much less motivated class of seller. There ARE cases of distress in this price range but in a much smaller proportion to lower end housing. Certainly if you look in say Eastlake you will more then likely see perhaps 50% of the comments in listings say short sale or REO. However do the same sort of search in a million dollar neighborhood and you will be lucky if you find 5% of the comments with those remarks. So it is clear that there is a lack of distress in these areas. Does that mean it will be like that forever? Of course not.

However the bottom line is that it will indeed take more patience for someone looking in these types of areas for a bargain. Maybe a few months and of course a single pop up here and there may occur, but for someone who expects widespread drops and picks of nice properties at substantial reductions, I think more likely you are looking into 09-10.

SD Realtor

Submitted by patientrenter on December 28, 2007 - 10:28pm.

pfflyer, if you haven't already done it, you may want to check out Rich's Dec 26 post "October Case-Shiller Prices". The picture says as much as anyone here knows, I suspect.

raptorduck, another poster looking for a high-end home, doesn't appear to be in any rush, so I suspect he sees more downside potential for high-end prices than upside. But I'll let him speak for himself.

Patient renter in OC

Submitted by Nancy_s soothsayer on December 28, 2007 - 10:46pm.

Many high-end buyers with large secure salaries played with Option ARMS because they were smug in thinking their "investment" bets were going to pay up big-time. In 2008-2009 they will get their hard lessons and comeuppance. Their recast triggers will bite them in the you-know-what.

Submitted by David Pearson on December 29, 2007 - 9:21am.

I'm also renting and waiting for the high end to crack. My guess is it will be a steep "catch-up" drop when it happens. Here's some reasons beyond the obvious, which is that the "trade-up" buyer is gone:

-High end is much more sensitive to option arms. These will recast to full payment over the next two years (for '05 and later loans). We're talking 2-3x increases in loan payments that were meant to be "refinanced away" with a new option arm. Many, many OA borrowers will explode.

-High end will be affected by bonus/profits/commissions. Think about all the profits that have been generated from cash-outs the past few years -- not only in the real estate sector, but in everything from restaurants to luxury car sales to cosmetic surgery. Lots of high-end owners will be taking a big pay cut (instead of the projected increase).

-Highest end will weigh on high end. The biggest price cuts are occurring in the highest price homes -- cut from $15m to $12m and still sitting there. What does that have to do with the $2m range? It "pancakes": the $12m home falls into the $9m range, forcing the $9m into the $7m, the $7m into the $5, etc. Eventually you get real luxury (a $4m home in 2005) falling into the $2.5m.

Submitted by SD Realtor on December 29, 2007 - 11:14am.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out...

My gut reaction was to write something akin to, why would anyone purchase an option arm on say a 2M home... However my next thought was that the best opportunity for people may be due to greedy real estate professionals who went and plunked down for places with hopes to spin them quickly. I tend to think these will be the first opportunity homes on the high end that hit the market.

Also I wonder if we are thinking about high end homes in a different manner. My thoughts on high end homes are 1.5M or 2M and up. I don't classify an 800k home as a high end home. Yes I know that is a huge amount of money and I certainly do not mean to devalue or demean a home of that price.

Here is a great example of opportunity or soon to be opportunity. I got a call from a lady a few months back who owns a home up in Carlsbad. She poo pood me and didn't list because of my sour outlook on the market and my price recommendation. I explained to her it would be a waste of my time to list at her desired price. Anyways she said she was sorry but couldn't list with me. Well she had no problem getting Prudential to list her home. So I did some more research on her and she has 7 homes, 5 of them bought within the last 3 years... and they are all in the 700-1M range. Nice places, but not high end. She is definitely in denial. While she acknowledges the down market she said most of the realtors she speaks to say it is a simple correction that will pick up again in the spring...

I guess I wandered off topic. I do think that the high end will come down (and has come down already). The next two years should start to erode it and I would assume the speculators on the high end (and it will be interesting to see how many there are) will be the first to go. I also still maintain that it will take more patience for the high end and that high ends will vary in the quality, quantity and amount of depreciation. The "newer" high end homes to me are more prone to the first and more substantial moves.

Just my guess which is not worth much.

What would be interesting to me is to hear what pricing people classify as high end.

SD Realtor

Submitted by 34f3f3f on December 29, 2007 - 11:38am.

I remember Rich talking about the 'bifurcation' process, whereby higher end homes prices were not declining at the same rate. It seems that $1m+ homes went up in price, just like everything else, so I had hoped they would come down like everything else. If homes in a mixed area of middle priced and high-end are affected you'd think they'd be affected together. Do you think that it is likely, that some homes hold their values while other plunge? Wouldn't that create a rather bipolar market? You'd have a price range where there were no homes for sale. Very odd.

Submitted by SD Realtor on December 29, 2007 - 11:52am.

I think it is a mix of alot of things qwerty. While it is true that even in high end housing there are speculators and bobos who get crazy financing vehicles, I do believe that the overall proportions of people who do this for high end housing is lower then for lower/median housing. I also believe that the mindset (denial/stickiness/crankiness) factor for high end homeowners differs as well. There also is the expectation factor that these people expect high end homes to sit on the market for a much longer time. I don't believe that real estate trends are homogenous across the board. Otherwise we would all be enjoying Riverside county or Eastlake pricing declines right? I think the market is kind of... multipolar. Lots of different behavior in different areas but all of them in a declining mode at different rates.

Submitted by bobby on December 29, 2007 - 11:54am.

Where I live the price of house have barely budged. I don't even want to think about who's buying these days. I guess google and yahoo money is still flowing.

Submitted by San Diego Native on December 29, 2007 - 2:17pm.


IMHO the "bottom" you are looking for will vary depending on the area of San Diego in which you are looking. In my area of La Jolla, most of the homes now selling in the
$4-5MM+ range seem to be holding, and even appreciating.

In this, and other "high end" areas, like Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, etc., friends are seeing lots of foreign buyers paying cash, so employment issues and loans are not a factor.

Realize, about 80%+ of San Diego homeowners--low to high end--purchased their homes for an extremely reasonable price--prior to the "big boom" years--did not HELOC themselves to ruin--and are fat with equity.

That said, you WILL find the bargain you are looking for in the other 20% or so of homebuyers who got in way over their heads. Simply choose the area in which you want to live, and just keep making those lowball offers.

Good luck!!

Submitted by David Pearson on December 29, 2007 - 4:14pm.

Foreign buyers with cash? Very funny.

I remember listening in to an Indymac (Option arm lender) conference call in July of 2005. Some guy asked the CEO Mark Perry how long prices could be out of wack with incomes in Southern California, and he replied that his neighbor's house -- no doubt a high-end home -- had just been bought by a foreign buyer, and that he saw no reason to worry.

The stock was around $50, and now its $7 or so.

Guess he should have worried.

Submitted by Deserted on December 29, 2007 - 6:16pm.

It's difficult to know what motivates a foreign buyer. I'm not remotely involved in the real estate biz, so perhaps someone with first-hand knowledge can comment.

My guess is that wealthy foreign buyers want to buy where their wealth or their wealthy business takes them. That is unlikely to be San Diego.

Follow the link to a listing of Fortune 500 (actually 1000 are listed in this compendium):


San Diego has a grand total of 3 companies in the 500, one of which is Sempra -- and that can hardly be called anything but a large local company. That puts San Diego in the esteemed company of El Segundo -- also with three. But San Diego has beat out Boise, with only two.

The list is bulging with neighborhoods in LA and the Bay Area. So if San Diego sellers are holding out for the wealthy foreign money, good luck to them. The buyers will go to LA and the Bay Area because money follows money.

Perhaps sellers are waiting for the wealthy Pacific Rim foreign money to buy in San Diego to retire in comfort and beauty. In my inexpert opinion, guess again. Think of all the truly beautiful cities spread around Australia and the South Pacific and tell me if you would decide to buy in the remote overpriced San Diego market. If you wouldn't, why do you think they would?

As an addendum I do want to thank all the Piggs whom I've been reading for the past two years. I thought I was crazy when the market reached crazy pricing. It turns out that you (we) were sane and the world was insane. So thank you all for bringing sanity to real estate analysis.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 29, 2007 - 7:38pm.

In the last 5 years the dollar to euro excanhge has gone from about $1 to 1 EU to where it stands today which is around $1.5 to 1EU. That means the Euro version of J6P has seen his purchasing power increase by 50%. That doesnt even factor in investing in a strong market. Its not just wealthy foreigners as relative to the US the rest of the world is getting alot wealthier.

Submitted by 34f3f3f on December 30, 2007 - 10:05am.

I agree with contrarian on what may motivate foreign buyers. But, if the weak dollar is the incentive, and they are property speculators, wouldn't they be sitting on their newly acquired dollars, until the market corrects itself?

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 30, 2007 - 11:43am.

I agree with contrarian also but its not just uber wealthy folks. The average Euro has seen their currency appreciate by 50% vis a vis the US $ the last few years. That means we are effectively at roughly 2001 pricing for them.

Submitted by patientrenter on December 30, 2007 - 5:29pm.

sdr, why wouldn't a smart middle-class European looking to buy a property in the US because of price, first convert a bunch of their Euro money to dollars now, and then wait out the expected US housing market downturn before converting those dollars into real property?

If they are motivated to buy now in the US by low prices, why wouldn't they make an effort to buy at the lowest possible price? (I'm not talking about people in the beach-house-wealthy category.)

Patient renter in OC

Submitted by David Pearson on December 30, 2007 - 7:00pm.

A couple more things about foreign buyers:

-For those Europeans looking for a vacation home, SD is just not convenient. They will buy in Florida, except they already did, and between house prices and the exchange rate, they got royally burned. Which brigs me to the second point:

-Foreign buyers are momentum investors (just like 99% of all real estate investors!). They bought into the Florida bubble when prices were skyrocketing, and we are not likely to see another wave while prices are plunging. Do you know anyone that bought in Panama right after the invasion? Probably not. Yet people flocked to invest there the past two years, when prices were skyrocketing. Same for Abu Dhabi (anyone buy right after 9/11?), same for Baja/Cabo (anyone buy in '95 when the economy in Mexico tanked?), same for every other "hot" real estate mecca.

-The dollar really hasn't devalued against Asian currencies. We might see some Asian interest in SD if it does, but there's two things to remember: 1) Asian investors are the most "momentum" oriented of all (see Macao today); and 2) if our currency really tanks against the Chinese currency, you'll see Walmart's prices shoot up, which is not what we need right now to stabilize our economy.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 30, 2007 - 9:55pm.

You assumed "smart". Dont assume the middle class Euro J6P is any smarter than the american version. BTW, I'm not claiming they are coming over in droves to support the market but rather it is just another potential mitigating factor.

D Pearson
I'm talkin Euro J6P looking to come to America and chase the Dream not Euro Investor Guy. Right or wrong, California is still a dream location for many of the average joe's around the world.

Submitted by cyphire on December 30, 2007 - 10:17pm.

Hi all - rustico, SD Realtor, sdrealtor et. al. I am actually considering some drastic action....

Moving to Wisconsin...

Buying a house....

I am currently renting in La Jolla. I sold my house in Dec 06 and was going to wait for something high end to come down... The problem I have is that I have a 13 year old and an 11 year old... The 13 year old will be starting 9th grade in September, the 11 year old will be starting middle school in september. If I ever make the move, it has to be now, I don't want my kids to keep moving around.

I guess what it comes down to is that I'm not super-enamored with La Jolla. Or carmel valley. The market in Madison WI is still fairly strong, but there is some big pressure on their 'high end'.

The weather sucks, but I'm not from California, and I'm not an outdoor person. I live a few blocks from the beach and never go there. I miss the seasons and I want my comfort without breaking the bank.

I found a house that a builder built for himself. The house is amazing. In a neighborhood which I like and near the school I want for my kids (the middle and the high school). The home is 7400 sq feet. It has a 5 car heated garage, heated floors, heated towel racks, a media room, and more rooms and amenities then I have ever seen in my life. I think that my family would be happy there, it is 5 min from my brother-in-law and their cousins. The house was listed way over a million, now it is a divorce sale for 790,000.00

It's not too hard a decision but it is a BIG one. The way I look at it, I don't want to wait for a year to wait for prices to come down. I don't want to be renting in La Jolla and wait for something to come down a couple of hundred thousand dollars while we are still renting. More importantly, I can pay cash for this house, and still have a ton of money left over. I don't need a mortgage...

I'm not sure what responses I will get from this, but I figure maybe someone has some questions / thoughts about this...

So... Am I crazy? Or is this an awesome move even in the midst of a, what I believe to be, market which will get much much worse....

Submitted by NotCranky on December 30, 2007 - 11:38pm.

Hello Cy,
Nice to see you around. I'd like to reply but am trying to watch my etiquette. I don't know if the original poster might feel like we are "hi-jacking" the thread. Could you cut and paste to a new topic just in case?

Submitted by SD Realtor on December 30, 2007 - 11:41pm.

Wow cyphire that is quite a move!

Well as you know I am one of those guys who knows what he doesn't know and I simply do not know about the Wisconsin market so for me to speculate on what the future will hold for that part of the country would not be prudent.

All I can do is speculate about La Jolla and San Diego in general. Having a family with children I can sympathize with your situation all to well. I absolutely want to be in a home and not of the renting variety by the time my kids hit school age. The one thing I would say is that once you do move you should be prepared to stay there until the kids graduate but it seems like you are planning on doing that regardless.

So let's throw out the usual reasons to stay here such as weather and such because these factors don't seem to be tugging at you anyways. I guess the real question is, which market will depreciate more, Madison or San Diego? Tough call because I simply do not know Madison. I will say this, I do not believe La Jolla will be at the bottom next year, or perhaps even 09. I do believe more of the risk will be removed by 09 but to me, I just don't see bottom by that time.

Anyways I don't think your crazy at all and I absolutely understand the reason for your purchase. To some people life is not only about money. You are not a first time buyer and it seems like you can afford this. Everyone has a unique situation and for your situation this seems like a perfectly logical thing to do. Will Madison go down more? Probably but I have no expertise at all in that market. Perhaps you should research it out or work with an expert over there.

SD Realtor

Submitted by one_muggle on December 31, 2007 - 12:13am.

cyphire-- I don't know about the financial aspects of your choice, but FWIW I think for lifestyle Madison is fantastic. I've lived in plenty of places (NYC, Buffalo, LA, DC, SF, Atlanta, and Tucson) and visited most of the 50 states, and except for hard winters, Madison really is quite a nice place--though I expect you already know that or you wouldn't be moving. It is one of the few places in "flyover" country where I would like to live.
The university is also great and it's reputation is on the rise and the convention center there is one of nicest I've visited--and I've visited some pretty nice ones. It's a Frank Loyd Wright design, called Monona Terrace I think. Madison is truly a wonder to bi-coastal snobs, such as I myself. ;^)

Good luck.

-one muggle

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 31, 2007 - 9:47am.

I know many people from WI and they are all pretty much wonderful, kind and intelligent people. With that said, my brother did his residency in Madison and couldnt wait to get outa there with his family when he was finished. He found the community to be great if you were from there but less welcoming to East Coasters as well as lacking in many cultural amenities that he enjoyed. Clearly that is one persons experience and not everyone's.

Personally, I couldnt live there. I'm not caught up in living in the most incredible house I have ever seen but rather am caught up in living in the most incredible community/location I have ever been. All this is personal preferences and only you can decide.

Submitted by asragov on December 31, 2007 - 10:01am.

For the past few months, I have been looking at the $3-$5 MM range for a European friend in La Jolla, and can offer a few insights:

- European buyers with a lot of money are not *necessarily* reckless. Some expect prices to fall a lot more, and so they are offering significantly less than sellers are asking.

- There is quite a range of sellers, where some have massive equity, and some have none or negative. The ones with a lot of equity have often lowered their asking price several times. We even had one case where a seller agreed to come down in price another 20ish % after listing at a fairly reasonable price (I think my friend will say if they agreed, then he offered too much, but we'll see).

- The hysterics are much greater in this market, especially among those with little equity. When people put 2005 prices on their homes and expect to get them, it is not like negotiating in other areas of San Diego. People get indignant and just plain nasty. The denial seems to run especially deep here.

I agree with SD Realtor that it is another 1-2 years before you see the denial pass. For successful, active people, doing nothing sometimes is the most difficult option. My friend clearly understands now that time has been on his side.

Submitted by XBoxBoy on December 31, 2007 - 10:08am.


You are definitely NOT crazy. I too am renting in La Jolla waiting for the prices to come down. But if I could I probably would be somewhere else. Problem is, I married a La Jolla girl who loves the beach and surfs. To her the idea of moving to a place with seasons is incomprehensible. Plus we share custody of her son with her ex, and he too is a La Jolla born surfer so moving would mean taking my stepson from his father.

But from my perspective... a 7400 sq ft home with a 5 car heated garage for under a million???? You ain't ever gonna get near that in La Jolla!! I don't care how far prices in San Diego crash, you will never get that kind of affordability.

Plus, as a parent in La Jolla, I often wonder how healthy this environment is for kids. I do see a lot of kids growing up, thinking that being cool, being a surfer, being good looking, being wealthy is what it is all about. I think if I had my pick, I'd rather raise kids in a boring place like Madison WI, rather than a ritzy glamorous place like La Jolla. If you need more proof of what I'm getting at, just look at the story of the bird rock bandits to make you shake your head.


ps to Rustico... this thread got hi-jacked a long time ago..

Submitted by TW on December 31, 2007 - 11:16am.

Big deal, Richmond, VA has 5 and it's a pipsqueak city. While a valuable number for pissing contests, I don't think it accurately reflects the strength of a local economy.

Submitted by NotCranky on December 31, 2007 - 11:27am.

Hello Cyphire,

Nice to see you around. I don't really think anyone can advise you on a move like this. Act as a sounding board maybe, but I am sure you understand that.
No way are you crazy.

I will say that the Utne Reader has recommended Madison Wisconsin highly in a few studies of "best places" to live. I think JG moved there on the recommendation though.

Seriously though, this comes as a surprise. Have you considered any other alternative locations thoroughly?
Are you possibly just getting a little restless and jumping at the first idea that has some appeal? I was certainly convinced that your plan, including the private schools was something that was really going to suit you and your family.

Madison sounds good too,except for cold winters. One of my sisters left California for WI about 15 years ago and her family has been very happy there. She and her husband are both teachers and live in Stoughton which is about 20 miles from Madison. Her daughter managed to get a good education in public schools. The last I heard, she was excelling in some specialty field of molecular biology that involves the latest in electron microscopy.

Best wishes,

Submitted by San Diego Native on December 31, 2007 - 1:08pm.

As mentioned in my previous post, the answer to your question, "PF" is that, "yes," you will be able to find a fantastic home in the $1.5-$2.5MM range in San Diego county, and "yes" you will get more for your money by waiting a little longer--how much longer, well???

We got into a huge home in La Jolla for the low six figures, pre-boom, and I doubt if it will drop that far again--but you never know. It doesn't matter to us, because, as other posters have mentioned, we live here because it's the lifestyle that we love. Our kids will soon graduate from high school, and have grown up to be great human beings.

You'll just have to monitor the specific area of town you are interested in based on many personal factors, and watch for the "great deal" you are looking for.

Submitted by cyphire on December 31, 2007 - 8:33pm.

Thats my problem exactly, with a kid starting middle school and one starting high school, I want them to have a great childhood before they leave to go off on their own. I will pay cash for a house which would probably cost 4M in La Jolla or 2.8 in Carmel Valley, but it's in a neighborhood and if it declines, it will go from 750K to 550K.... While the 2.8M in Carmel Valley will go to 2M... or lower... The house is basically at about 110$ / sq. ft. with finishes which would be astronomical in So. Cal.

I will probably buy a 2 bedroom condo in San Diego (downtown) in a few years if prices do what I think they will do and get the best of both worlds... When the kids leave in 7 years, I will have the condo to live in, and the home in Wisconsin for family and friends...

I still have other family in the OC so I will be back and forth anyway.

One last thing to mention...

Here in Madison, the upper end is dying. We went into an 800K house which hadn't been shown in 4 months. A homeless person was sleeping in the laundry room. Scary. This house was for sale at over 1.2M, and is now at 800K... I am going to offer 725K-740K. I couldn't buy a decent house in Carmel valley for that, and the CV houses which are 1M or 1.1M will be down to that in 2-3 years and I can't freeze my family.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 31, 2007 - 10:52pm.

I dont understand the great childhood part/ You've taken them from NY to Carmel Valley to Olivenhain to La Jolla in the last several years and now you are looking for some stability in their childhood. Your kids have been in at least 4 different school systems already. Sorry but that train left the station long ago.

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