The median price of a Marin home jumped 14 percent in December compared with December 2013, and sales soared a jaw-dropping 24 percent, a data service reported Thursday.
In December, 204 homes sold in Marin, compared with 164 homes in December 2013, according to Irvine-based CoreLogic DataQuick. The median price was $950,000, compared with $835,000 the previous December.
Condominium prices jumped 32 percent, to $514,000, and 55 condos sold, an 8 percent jump.
The 24 percent rise in sales of single-family homes stands in contrast to November, when sales dropped 3 percent.
A rise in sales from November to December is normal for the season, the data service said. Bay Area sales have risen an average of 10 percent between those two months since 1988, when CoreLogic DataQuick data collection began.
A real estate agent gave the nod to buyers as the moving force behind the market.
“Buyers always lead the market, whether it’s up or down, and they have been doing so since December 2012,” said Bob Ravasio, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent who publishes a monthly real estate newsletter. “That’s just where we are in the cycle right now.
There has been a dearth of homes on the market, leading to buyers’ frenzied pursuit of home purchases that has led to multiple offers and bidding wars in some situations.
Time to sell
One possible factor behind the lack of inventory: “It takes a long time to decide to sell your house,” Ravasio said. The agent felt that many homeowners may have finally reached the tipping point.
“People think about it for a long time. It’s a long emotional process people go through. I think a lot of people are now coming around to the idea that it is a good time to sell, since prices have gone up a lot since the recession,” Ravasio said.
Not only does it take a long time to decide to sell, once the decision has been made, it will still take time to get the house ready.
“I have several sellers preparing, but they won’t be ready until March or April,” said Connie Irwin, a Pacific Union agent.
“If a seller is obtaining city reports, that takes time,” Irwin said. “Termite inspection could take two weeks to schedule, perform and document. Sewer laterals — in some Marin cities you now have to have your sewer laterals inspected and tested and replaced if necessary.
“You probably want to do some painting and repairs, and you want to stage the house,” the agent said, referring to arranging furniture and home decorations in an appealing manner.
“The biggest thing that takes time is cleaning out the clutter. It’s a nightmare,” Irwin said.
Irwin said she wasn’t sure if the inventory drought would lessen.
“We’ll see what this year brings us. It’s always a mystery as to how it’s going to go. We don’t know what’s causing (the shortage of homes for sale). We don’t have the short sales so much any more; we don’t have the bank properties any more; we don’t have the flippers that much,” she said.
Julie Leitzell of Alain Pinel Realtors was also unsure about whether the logjam would break.
“I hope we get more inventory in 2015. I know there will be a surge of inventory in early spring because there always is and we’re hearing through the grapevine about what’s coming on the market,” Leitzell said.
“I’m sure of that. I’ve got buyers ready to go. It’s the seasonal bump. I just don’t know if it’s going to be any more than last year. It’s so hard to tell,” Leitzell said.
Agents were unanimous in agreeing that inventory will increase in spring.
“From my vantage point I’m seeing people who are waiting to put their houses on in the February and March months. Basically we’re still waiting for inventory; we’re getting some inventory right now, but I believe most of the inventory is going to start trickling in February and March,” said Spiro Stratigos of Coldwell Banker.
Other than in the spring, “I expect inventory will remain the way it is. I wish it would increase, because I am representing several buyers, but I don’t expect it to,” said Paul Cingolani of Bradley Real Estate.
One thing for sure, Cingolani said: “Buyers are continuing to aggressively pursue the limited inventory on the market.
“I work with a lot of cash buyers and they still feel real estate is one of the most secure assets they can hold in their portfolio. We are not making a whole lot of new products and demand will continue to increase over the years. A lot of investors are paying cash for properties and renting them and seeing a more stabilized return than they see in the stock market,” Cingolani said.
Individuals who intend to live in the homes they buy are also continuing to chase the few properties on the market, the agent said.
One of the biggest factors motivating buyers is low interest rates, the agents agreed.
“Right now, the conventional 30-year fixed-rate interest rate for a mortgage is around 3.75 percent. That’s crazy. That’s just nuts,” said Ravasio, who in late 2012 correctly predicted the resurgence of home prices. This interest rate is historically low.
“We’ve (agents) been telling people for two years that interest rates are going up and they are still not. The 10-year Treasury bill was 2 percent just a week ago,” Ravasio said.
When interest rates are low, people can afford to spend more on houses because their monthly payments will be lower. In some cases, the interest rate might make the difference between being able to buy a home at all or not.
Unfortunately for those highly motivated buyers, the consensus seemed to be that other than during the spring, there wouldn’t be much for them to choose from.
David N. Swaim