The Goldman Report: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the Current Market
Posted by Avram Goldman — September 13, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO – (Sept. 14, 2008) – The economy has more moves than Reggie Bush (the New Orleans Saints running back) or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The current economic picture should be entitled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” – the classic Clint Eastwood western.We started off the week with the government takeover of Fannie and Freddie while oil prices continued to decline. That was the Good news, as mortgage interest rates came down nearly a half percent and guaranteeing that the mortgage market would stay flowing. With declining oil prices, the depreciating dollar stabilized, lessening the risk of inflation. The stock market also had some upside, although most of its gains disappeared with the unemployment numbers and the falloff of retail sales. That was the Bad News. The eminent sale or breakup of Lehman Bros. and the cost of Hurricane Ike was the Ugly news. The Lehman Bros. fiasco is about to come to a head tomorrow. At this point, Barclay’s Bank is longer interested in pursuing a sale, so it looks like they will have no alternative but bankruptcy. Right now someone needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat and it won’t be the Fed. They have no more rabbits. Bank of America just bought Merrill Lynch. This should give a little buffer to Wall Street as well as the market, due to the massive Excedrin headache that will be created by Lehman Bros’ inability to put together a deal.These are delicate times, but we still have to keep perspective. Some things are still going right. I went to the SF Symphony Saturday night. It was sold out. Had dinner at Jardinere – totally packed. Tried to get a reservation for a Tuesday night dinner in a couple of weeks at Spruce (SF). Forget it – all booked.Open house activity overall remains strong, as indicated by the following examples: an Inner Sunset (SF) 3 bedr/1 ba home listed at $888k had 85 visitors; a West Portal (SF) 3 bedr/1 ba listing attracted 62 groups; an Upper Rockridge (Oak) fixer priced at $295K was overwhelmed with 220 groups; a Rockridge home listed at $1.125 mil. had 70 visitors; a Glenview (Oak) home priced at $695K entertained 62 buyers; and 2 condos on 22nd St. in SF listed at $725K and $765 had 100 groups in total.Multiple-offer transactions have declined. This past week the percentage slowed to a little over 10% of our ratified offers. Nevertheless, a Sunset 3 bedr/2 ba home listed at $799K received 29 offers, go figure. Obviously, it was under priced. However it did create a feeding frenzy. By the way, it did go well over asking. The pressure on demand continues to build, although most buyers are still trying to figure out when the market will hit bottom.Speaking of the bottom, James J. Cramer, co-founder of TheStreet.com, predicted the bottom of the market will be on June 29th 2009 in an article entitled “The Bottom Line,” in the Sept. 7th issue of New York magazine. He gave 10 reasons why this would occur. He actually spelled out why we are nearing the bottom. I think he was a bit tongue-in-cheek with the date. I believe the point is that no one knows when the real estate market will bottom out and for how long it will remain there. What you can look for however is buying opportunities.There is no national market. There are only market trends. The real estate world is local. Meaning that markets are like wine regions---there are many micro-climates. You can’t broad brush. In the Bay Area, some neighborhoods are still accelerating like Noe Valley in SF while others are still dropping like some locales in Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa and Alameda counties. If inventories continue to drop, as they have in the Bay Area since January, it could mean the beginning of price stabilization.Last September started out quite slow due to the sub-prime fiasco revealing itself in all its glory in August. Our first two weeks of this September for open sales is up 54% over the same period in 2007. The last two weeks of September 2007 did pick up over the first. If the current pace of sales continues this month we should be up close to 30% over September 2007.The fall market has all the makings of opportunity for buyers. First, interest rates have dropped appreciably due to the Fed taking over Fannie and Freddie. These rates will not remain at these levels for long. As we head into next year, rates should increase. A fresh supply of inventory will be coming on the market over the next 45 days. Many buyers are waiting for a sign. That means those that buy now will have less competition. Buyers should have more leverage, unless you are going after that home in the Sunset or one in a similar hot market.Here is Clint at his best. Who could forget the spaghetti westerns?Editor’s Note:Avram Goldman is the President and CEO of Pacific Union GMAC Real Estate in the San Francisco Bay Area.