Mixed signals for buyers

User Forum Topic
Submitted by raptorduck on February 4, 2008 - 9:37am

I occasionally post my own experience as a buyer in this market, for those who would be curious about such things. Alas, it is my limited exposure, but a sample is a sample.

First, my banker tells me that lending stardards in slightly higher end markets ($2M-$5M homes) are getting tighter and most banks are asking for an extra 5% down (so 25%-30% down payments) for traditional mortgages. They also spend more time looking at sources of income and excluding certain things they would exclude last year.

The conclusion from my banker is that there will be fewer buyers in these markets due to fewer folks qualifying and so I will have less competition, which means I can get better deals. Really what this means is that buyers get pushed down one level in home purchases for the most part, downward compression.

Ok, so first both my RSF agent and my Bay Area agents tell me that they are both seeing a surge in buyer activity and homes are moving again and the market is "picking" up significantly. Stats don't support that, but stats don't tell us about January yet so we will see.

So up here in the Bay Area I went to look at 5 homes in the above price range. Yes we are still looking in both markets with a plan to buy in both.

Home #1 almost 8,000 square feet and 4 yrs new in the hills (not LAH, San Jose hills instead), but still most expensive house of the 5. Went on market in Sept. I did not get to see it on Sunday. Saturday, 6 folks saw it and it got 3 offers on the spot and sold above asking literally over night. So the selling agent cancelled my appointment b/c it was a cash offer with no contingencies. WTF. Bear in mind that an 8k sf house is about as common up here as a republican. They do exist, but people don't admit they exist.

Home #2. Almost the same price, less than 1/2 the size, on 1/10th the lot, in Palo Alto. Overpriced for what you get. On market for 1 year, not one price drop.

Home #3. Near #2. 6,000+sf (unheard of in Palo Alto). Seller is also the agent. Ok, she lied about it being built in 2008. It was built in 2004. She lied that it is vacant and nobody lived there. We got there early. She was cooking in that "new" kitchen and clearly was living in the house. Picture this, take a 11ksf lot, now build a 2 story home with a basement on it with 9 bedrooms. If you picture a rat maze you get the picture. To add insult to injury, the neighbor came out and threatened me and my family for parking in front of his house, with a broom stick mind you. The guy lived in ancient tiny ranch house accross the street. He is surrounded by these overbuilt monster homes. I think he is the reason the house has not sold in a over a year (yes, you read right, listing agent actually lists the house as being built after she first listed it).

Home #4. 6k sf near my current house in San Jose. Very nice, but again way overpriced for the area. Seller has not lowered the price in a year.

Home #5. Los Altos, smalish, old, not updated, but priced accordingly and we saw it on Saturday and it sold by Sunday after its first open house. Don't know what it sold for. I suspect very close to asking.

Not a lot of info here other than yes homes can sell shortly after listing here and at or above asking, but others do sit. And yes, sellers and their agents do lie, they lie a lot. My agent got into it with a prior listing agent who told me they were getting an offer the same day I looked at a house above asking. No such offer ever was submitted. She was bluffing. Same old triks from the bubble market are being used in this market by agents who have not business in this business.

Submitted by XBoxBoy on February 4, 2008 - 9:49am.


None of what you write surprises me in the least. The one thing I will comment on, is that you should expect to see small spurts of buying even though the overall trend is going to remain down for quite a while. You see this in a bear market in the stock exchanges too.

Personally, I fully expect to see the beginnings of a bounce this spring. There will be plenty of people that think there will be a turnaround, and they'll want to get in before the rush. But the fundamentals are still exactly where your banker pointed out they are. And that means this spring bounce won't hold. Personally, I don't expect to see seller capitulation in the higher priced areas until fall 2008.

Just my 2cents worth though,


Submitted by EconProf on February 4, 2008 - 12:29pm.

Wow...knife catchers still out there, esp. in the few still- strong pockets of prosperity in this sinking economy.
Methinks the opposing sides on the ongoing debate about the future of RE prices underrate the the growing likelihood of a deep and long old-fashioned recession. Historically, RE prices simply have to react to deteriorating fundamentals such as incomes, spending, unemployment, growing gov't deficits at all levels, etc. during such declines.
BTW here in Santaluz, a neighborhood you have looked at, prices are softening, inventories growing, and short-sales popping up among my previously overconfident neighbors. Happy hunting...time is on your side.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 12:49pm.

BobS: As I'm sure Raptor will tell you, areas like Palo Alto and Los Altos are very different than what you find down here. Call it the "Google effect" or the "Apple effect", but prices are remaining stubbornly high, and houses continue to move, even at those prices.

I have friend that lives in Los Altos, and he is telling me stories about 16,000sf lots in LAH going for $2MM.

I don't doubt that the market will come down, but it will probably take much longer than San Diego, OC or LA.

Submitted by kewp on February 4, 2008 - 12:52pm.

I'm pretty sure there were cases of 'double defaults' in the last downturn.

I.e, someone buys a foreclosure on the dead-cat bounce, then defaults in turn a year later.

Submitted by sdrealtor on February 4, 2008 - 1:18pm.

Its already happened around here in the last 12 months

Submitted by Enorah on February 4, 2008 - 1:25pm.


Someone just told me that "the housing market is really picking up again", according to her realtor. I was screaming dead cat bounce in my head but kept my mouth shut.

Submitted by jabrwoki on February 4, 2008 - 1:26pm.

Having been a resident of both SD and bay area I can concur with both raptorduck and allan than things are different in the bay area than SD. I missed the RE boom in SD never imagining it might reach such stratospheric heights (by SD standards).Right when I moved to BA in 2001 it appeared that housing was much more expensive here than in SD (despite the 1998-2001 boom in Carmel valley) and I decided to buy a townhome in Mountain View which I had to sell when I moved back to SD in 2003 (barely broke even but now that same house is worth 30% more). I watched with incredulity the SD market (mainly Carmel valley) moving beyond the wildest imagination in 2005-06 timeframe. I moved back to BA last year (wisely deciding not to buy in SD for the last two years). While the boom seems to have run out of steam in SD it is still going gangbusters in the peninsula area (which includes Palo Alto, LAH etc). At least two of my friends are active in the buyer's market and they have been outbid at least on 10 houses in the past year. One had to increase his budget from $1.2 to $1.5mil (since he was keen on staying within Palo Alto schools) and still keeps getting outbid evertime so far. The problem being there is no land left in these areas. The desirable outskirts of BA definitely (like Pleasanton, San Ramon etc) has seen price pressure in the last year but still is not bad since it is not rife with flipping and liar loans of the SoCal. Bottom line is despite all the market turmoil and economy stalling, prices here are at statospheric heights and there still seem to be plenty of buyers for the desirable locales ! And trust me I am no bubble denier !!

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 2:15pm.

jabrwoki: The real interesting thing is the disconnect that Peninsula pricing has with areas like Napa and Sonoma counties, and other parts of the Bay Area (South San Francisco comes to mind). I have been keeping an eye on Napa and Sonoma, because I'd like to get some property up there, and Sta. Rosa, Sonoma, and parts of Napa are definitely dropping, and fast. Even San Francisco itself is starting to see a weakening in demand, and thusly pricing. But LAH, Palo Alto, Cupertino, Los Gatos et al keep right on accelerating.

I do remember after the dot.bomb that parts of Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Sta. Clara went into the tank, but they have rebounded strongly.

Is there where I put a shout out to Lewis Carroll?

Submitted by former SoCal on February 4, 2008 - 2:28pm.

Former Socal

I bought in the Lamorinda (East Bay of SF) in Dec 2005 after moving from Southern Cal. We bid on ~12 houses before buying one. But we never went more than $100K over asking with is why it took so long to get a house.

NOW...Prices for the same tract home as mine are going for about $50K less... asking price about the same, just no more overbidding. Sales are slower weeks instead of days or even hours.

I would say a slow down not a big drop. I am planning to buy my retirement in SD and that's why I read this site. Someday...back in the sunshine.

Submitted by jabrwoki on February 4, 2008 - 2:30pm.

I dont know about Santa Clara/San Jose (heard it is definitely softer than deadly trio Sunnyvale/MV/PA) but the most likely explanation is the Google effect. More confirmation that this is the case is that in most cases I heard the buyers put down a lot of cash (close to 80 to 100%). In a way buyers here realize that the stock market is probably in lala-land as far as Google stock price is concerned so it is easy-come, easy-go as far as the cash is concerned. In retrospect that may not be a bad idea because I know personally people who converted their 2000 stock gains into purchasing whether in Los Altos or Carmel Valley didnt regret it.
Another anecdote, one of the open houses I toured in Pleasanton, the owner said they are moving to Napa/Sonoma to retire. Probably good move since they were trying to sell their cookie-cutter in Pleasanton for $1.3mil !! Dont know whether they were successful in the sale though. There definitely is serious price pressures on the fringes of BA RE though no seriously plunges yet. Napa/Sonoma technically is too far out for working folks though and cannot be considered part of BA RE.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 2:46pm.

jabrwoki: My buddy that lives in Los Altos works for Intel on their Sta. Clara campus and says that the buzz about Google stock is that it is in for a downturn. Given that its presently in nosebleed range ($700+ a share), that would make sense. I also hear that some of the steam is coming out of the Google machine, and their frenetic hiring pace is slowing somewhat. Based on what he said, Google was driving housing prices in areas ranging from Mountain View through Menlo/Atherton. He mentioned a senior program engineer buying a place in Palo Alto Hills near the country club for a cool two mil in cash. Must be nice.

I'd love to grab a couple of acres in either Sonoma or Napa and build. I missed a primo chance at the end of the dot.bomb bust when I could have picked up two acres in Healdsburg for $150k. Some dot.com genius was apparently also an aspiring vinter and lost the property when his company went bust. Waited a bit too long, and missed the opportunity. Plenty of nice places for sale in those areas, and the prices are getting competitive again.

Submitted by jabrwoki on February 4, 2008 - 3:30pm.

Allan : Dont sweat it too much. More people have been wrong than right on the timing their purchase (At least that is how I console myself after missing much of the RE boom and see my savings deflate :-)). Good luck on your land hunt in Napa !

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 3:49pm.

jabrwoki: I definitely get the sense that there are some developers that got overextended in the wine country. I am starting to see fairly decent size acreages (5, 10, 20+) opening up, and at affordable prices (around $20k per acre). All of them have been zoned and perc'd for multiple residences, and are now coming back onto the market as "developable land".

These are right alongside the WTF asking prices of some of the larger, and newer, properties there. I saw a nice 3,000sf property on 5.5ac for the low, low price of $1.7MM. Nice area, but not that nice.

Submitted by raptorduck on February 4, 2008 - 4:26pm.

Looking to buy in both markets has certainly helped me appreciate the differences. Night and day really. Very little inventory of any kind, let alone nice houses, in LA/LAH/PA and lots of high quality inventory in RSF. I know people here make more income and have Google/Apple $$ etc and there are gobs and gobs of 7 figure income folks in Silicon Valley, but SD is so much nicer to live in, that I feel like I am living in a dream with the prices down there, and they are still dropping!

This is just a different world up here. I used to have a Ferrari and and Aston Martin and I had them serviced at what used to be called Ferrari of Los Gatos (now SV Auto Group) and they once told me that there were 6,000 registered Ferrari's in Silicon Valley. Lots of money up here indeed. But in most cases, you can't tell by looking at the person's house. It is probably a 1,300 sf shack in MV with a Ferrari in it.

People want MV, LA, PA for the schools and commute, but an entry level home is over $1 million in MV and over $2 million in LA/PA and as mentioned, lots of buyers for those.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 4:33pm.

raptor: You want a scream? My folks bought their house in Los Altos Hills (before it was Los Altos Hills, it was just Los Altos back then) in 1966 for $22,000. My dad moaned for years about how expensive that house was, but my mom had to have it, so he bought it for her. Comparable homes in Mountain View at the time were going for about half that. It was in the hills above Foothill Expressway, and sold for over $800k when my dad retired in '89. Same house went for over $1.8MM three years ago. Gotta love Silicon Valley.

Speaking of Ferraris: A girl I went to high school with got one for her 18th birthday. Her dad, a former HP'er, had sold his company and made some twenty odd million. This was '82 and, following the Apple IPO of a year or so earlier, really ushered in the Silicon Valley prosperity you see today. Interesting times, to say the least.

Submitted by Dukehorn on February 4, 2008 - 5:51pm.

I think raptorduck gives a solid indication of the high end of the market in the Bay Area. I know some officers of various companies that have made recent purchases (one in Los Altos, the other in Hillsborough). But the big wealth buyers have never been the issue in the Bay Area.

I think what would be considered the "middle market"--600,000-1 million, is running pretty slow (at least in Sunnyvale). Folks aren't interested in paying that for a 1200 sq ft home that sold for $400,000 back in 2003, especially if they have 2 kids.

Google is slowing its hiring. The VMware stock drop and the yahoo layoffs are the hot topic of conversation. My friend was going to rent a townhome (again rentals are lagging behind sales price) from a yahoo couple, but with the upcoming layoffs, they're thinking about selling and leaving the state.

Folks who have been exercising their options are keeping prices reasonably solid in the mid-Peninsula. But google has definitely lowered the size of its option grants since 2005, so it's hard to say if there will be an immediate wave of new google wealth anytime soon.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 6:05pm.

Duke: I also think Google is taking the threat of a Microsoft-Yahoo merger very seriously. The ruckus they are kicking up would certainly seem to indicate that's the case. If it happens, I have to imagine Google will be hoarding cash like crazy, in advance of the oncoming onslaught.

Google is starting to feel pressure as their business model is coming into question, and a recent downgrade of their stock (based on those questions) can't have helped.

Funny how quickly the New New Thing becomes passe up in that neck of the woods.

Submitted by Dukehorn on February 4, 2008 - 6:11pm.

I've had the pleasure of going to google for lunch a few times--the food is good. I've watched the employees walk their dogs (it was suppose to be a once-in awhile perk till a VP started bringing his dog everyday), seen cubicles being decorated, and kids playing guitar hero in the snack rooms, and I sort of wonder when work gets done.

An older friend of mine, who's fairly high up at AMD, says it reminds him of Silicon Graphics in the heyday. A number of really smart hardworking folks that end up trying to carry the company because the newer folks are caught up in the country club atmosphere. I didn't believe that assessment but after being on that campus a few times, I'm starting to come around.

Submitted by raptorduck on February 4, 2008 - 7:19pm.

Interesting historical recollections. My first wife worked at Silicon Graphics during the Jurrasic Park days and lunch there was always a blast.

In terms of old property prices, my dad bought just over 1.5 acres of land in Palo Alto (Barron Park) not far from El Camino in 1972 for $70,000. He sold it in 1982 for more than ten times that and today on that same piece of land there are 8 two story cul-de-sac homes. According to Zillow, they range in value from $1.7-$2.3 million at 2,100-3,500 sf on around 6k sf size lots, roughly $16 million worth of homes on 1.5 acres if you believe Zillow!

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 7:59pm.

Duke/raptor: Speaking of the old days: I worked at Apple's fab plant in '82, back in the days when they still made computers here in California (the venerable Apple IIc/e models). It was a very unique time. The Silicon Valley hadn't really arrived yet, and the old guard companies like IBM and Lockheed still held sway.

Guys like Jobs and Wozniak were true visionaries, but they were also hard workers. They did quality control on the line, they benchtested machines (before that term even existed) and did everything else necessary to run the company and spread the word. That sort of work ethic has been replaced by the "country club" atmosphere that Duke mentions.

My dad was an aerospace engineer for Ford Aerospace in Palo Alto and from that WWII generation of guys that also had a strong work ethic, and a very directed focus. Not to bag on the up and coming generation, but you just don't find that mentality or that ethic much anymore. Everyone is busy thinking about their new BMW, or their stock options, or the next company they'll be working for.

raptor: A good friend of the family had a chance to buy 5 acres near St. Joe's seminary up in the hills. This was 1979, and he could have had those 5 acres for $100k, a literal steal. He passed on the offer, and laments it to this day (obviously). Your old man had a little more on the stick in that regard. Apropos of nothing, do you remember Linda's restaurant on El Camino Real in Mtn. View? Man, that place had the best tater tots!

Submitted by raptorduck on February 4, 2008 - 8:18pm.

Allan. You know I don't remember Linda's. I came to the Bay Area in the early 80's from SD after my stint in the Navy. My dad lived here long before I did (divorced). I used to work next to Apple on De Anza Blvd years back. I also worked next to PARC for about 8 years. In that place, only magic happened. Some really smart people worked there.

I often wished my dad kept that piece of land. He lives with me now and his proceeds are long gone.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 4, 2008 - 8:26pm.

raptor: My dad took me to Palo Alto Research Center a couple of times, back in the mid-1970s. It was an amazing place, and what is even more amazing is the sheer amount of genius that Xerox threw away. I'm sure you know this, but the mouse, ethernet networking, and dozens of other innovations were either discarded, or sold cheap to competitors, because Xerox couldn't use them in their xerographic business. Stunning when you think about it.

Speaking of ancient history, and the old guard "dinosaur" mentality: A good friend of my dad's was an engineer with Amdahl, the mainframe maker. He opined at a BBQ (circa 1981) that the PC would never take off, and true computing power would always be held by the "big iron" (mainframes). Whoops.

My dad offered to cut me a deal on the Los Altos place, but my wife at the time didn't want to move to the Bay Area, and didn't really get along with my parents. So, I hear ya. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Submitted by Dukehorn on February 5, 2008 - 10:48am.

The amount of wealth generation in Silicon Valley (and with telecomm in San Diego) is pretty amazing. The problem with a google or yahoo is that the Really Smart people have really no incentive to stay if they strike it rich. They then have the money and security to move on to a new start-up. The number of old-school googlers that have started new companies is pretty high (just as it was for yahoo). I guess it's how we, as a country, stay on top of innovation but it makes a company like Yahoo (only 14 years old) appear like a dinosaur.

Of course, folks that move to SD or SF from Texas or North Carolina have a bit of a problem trying to jump into the market versus the option money :(.

It's amazing how Xerox could have retained its relevance in the tech world if it just was able to assess its own technology--course, we might not have an Apple today.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 5, 2008 - 11:25am.

Duke: My dad used to say that the Silicon Valley's dirty little secret was that all entrepreneurial vision was underwritten by Defense Dept dollars.

The model you mention was in existence from the beginning, and it started with companies like Xerox, IBM, HP and Fairchild. Stanford University also threw off a tremendous number of entrepeneurs and innovators (few folks know that SUN Microsystems stands for Stanford University Network).

The New New Thing has always been the raison d'etre of Silicon Valley and the adage there has always been Innovate or Die (or be acquired, which is where Yahoo is right now). Funny that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I still get a laugh whenever someone quotes Al Gore and his "inventing the internet" nonsense. My dad had a DARPANet connection to Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore Labs starting back in the 1970s. DARPANet was the forerunner to the internet, and a major interconnection point between the defense contractors, the universities and the testing facilities. As liberal as Stanford and Cal might have been (and continue to be), they didn't hesitate to take Uncle Sam's money for defense work.

Submitted by Dukehorn on February 5, 2008 - 2:40pm.

Very true,

I grew up in a NASA town with a few astornauts on the street over (Jack Lousma for example) so I got to see the DoD spend as well, and my father worked on the F-16 figher and M-1 tank engine designs (thermal flow).

I don't know if I'd agree with the inference that liberals are anti-military. Granted some are (on the very far left), but I'd say a large number of my friends and I are cognizant of the necessity of the military and the need for military RnD and spend. (with the additional caveat that these friends and I grew up middle class so we probably have more military connections than the current generation). But this raises a sociological question about whether the widening economic gap between the rich and the poor serves to insulate many of us from the current sacrifices made by our troops in Iraq (and whether that's a fault more attributable to the conservatives or liberals)

Oh I was planning on going to MIT on a ROTC scholarship till I failed my physical (dang 4 eyes).

I just really dislike how our nation seems partitioned into these artificial categories where it seems that just because I'm an environmentalist and pretty liberal on social issues that I can't also support our military. Or if you're in the military, you can't believe in global warming. We need more political parties....

Submitted by raptorduck on February 5, 2008 - 3:04pm.

Ok, Allan, now I am impressed. Do you recall Arapnet spin off? I used to work at LBL. Lets not forget Bell Labs either or SRI for innovators. PARC was great, they gave us icon based computing, grid architecture, and Smalltalk.

And thanks to the Bayh-Dole Act, the government still funds early innovation that gets commercialized in a way no other country can match. Remembers, Japan copies, improves, refines, and stands on the shoulder of innovators to innovate improvements and they do it better than anybody, but original innovations start here.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 5, 2008 - 3:10pm.

Duke: Let me qualify what I said a little further, as I don't want to create an incorrect perception. When I was younger, it wasn't uncommon for Stanford academics to routinely protest against the military (and the ROTC program) and the government. At the same time, Stanford was raking in millions for DoD projects, as well as participating with local companies, including Lockheed and Ford Aerospace, on military and defense research.

I don't subscribe to the notion that liberals are inherently anti-military or anti-government. As I have opined previously, I don't find the word "liberal" a pejorative. I do, however, object to the left-wing and far left-wing. As a strongly conservative person (politically speaking), I also object to the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs of the world, as I feel they stifle debate and discourse to the same or greater extent as their left-wing counterparts.

My dad was an aerospace engineer for Ford Aerospace and he worked on the Milsat and Intelsat programs during the '60s, 70's and 80's. Because of the nature of those programs, Ford, Lockheed and the other companies were hush-hush about the work, but also because of the potential for negative press as well. Defense work was perceived in many parts of the Bay Area, and especially the campuses of Cal and Berkeley, as being evil. There were a lot of holdouts from the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and there were very left leaning academics at both institutions who loved demonizing the "military/industrial complex" and the defense industries. I always felt Stanford especially was very hypocritical in their desire to appease both sides.

I don't think we necessarily need more political parties, I think we need to return to reasoned discourse and dialogue and turn our brains back on. This sound bite universe we now occupy, in conjunction with the witless stupidity of Political Correctness, has effectively hamstrung any attempts to have a meaningful discussion on any topic of worth.

The example of that government employee who was fired for using the term "niggardly" (in it's proper context, and to describe a miserly program) is a prime example.

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on February 5, 2008 - 3:19pm.

raptor: Stanford Research Institute in Menlo, right? As far as Bell Labs goes, my dad got his start with JPL in Pasadena, and his team did some collaborative work with Bell Labs. Talk about amazing places; Bell undoubtedly mirrors PARC for sheer cranial horsepower.

One of the projects my dad worked on was the avionics and telemetry for the F-4 Phantom, including the countermeasures package. This put him in contact with the "Skunk Works" boys out in the high desert. He said the 6 - 7 months he worked with them was the high point of his career. We got to travel out to Beale once to see the SR71 take off. Amazing aircraft, especially given the fact that the thing leaked like a sieve when it was on the ground.

That period between the late 1950s and the 1980s was a very fertile time for technological innovation. I don't know if we will every see anything like that again.

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