Rates Are Low But Buyers Are Not Going Nuts

Dated: July 16 2019

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Rates are low, but buyers aren’t going nuts


Rates and inventory are really low, so on paper it seems like the market should be booming. But it’s not. The truth is sales numbers are down despite rates doing the limbo below four percent again. It’s like the market looks hot on paper, but it’s also a bit lackluster in some ways.

Affordability: A big issue today is buyers are struggling with affordability. After seven years of price increases, we’re seeing the market become too expensive for many prospective buyers since wage growth has not kept pace with price growth. Some buyers feel uncertain about the future also, which is causing hesitancy about whether to purchase.

Hot couple analogy: The market is like a super hot couple that looks great on paper. They’re rich, attractive, successful, and they get a ton of “likes” on Instagram. Everything looks perfect, but then out of nowhere they break up because it turns out their relationship wasn’t as good as everyone thought. In a similar way, the real estate market looks stellar on paper. Rates are low, inventory is sparse, and it’s actually really competitive out there. But we’re also seeing weaker sales volume which shows us buyers aren’t as enthusiastic as we’d assume them to be.

Any thoughts?

—–——– Big local monthly market update (long on purpose) —–——–

Now for those interested, let’s talk about Sacramento trends. If I had to pick a few phrases to describe the market it would be competitive if priced right, modest price growth, slumping volume, and fairly normal stats for the spring.


  • Prices are up, volume is down

  • It kinda feels normal right now

  • Price growth has been modest

  • 46% of sales had multiple offers last month

  • Sales volume is down for the 14th month in a row

  • Low rates have helped change the feel of the market this year

  • Inventory is thin, but slightly higher than last year

  • The post is long on purpose. Skim or pour a cup of coffee


Here are some of the bigger topics right now:

Normal: The market felt really dull last year, but it’s been a somewhat normal year so far in 2019. There are certainly concerns about affordability, but from a stats perspective it’s been a pretty standard first half of the year. Pendings continue to be strong also, so buyers still clearly have a strong appetite for the market.

14 months in a row of slumping volume: Despite mortgage rates being low we’re seeing somewhat sluggish sales volume. In fact, sales volume was down 11.6% in the region last month and it’s down 8.6% so far in 2019. Moreover, we’ve had fourteen months in a row with lower sales volume compared to the previous year. In my mind it’s still best to say we’re having a slower year instead of a volume meltdown because levels aren’t alarmingly low by any stretch. Let’s watch this carefully.

Dude, rates will never get below 4% again: It’s been a little surprising to see how low rates have gone again, right? The narrative for a while was, “Dude, they’ll never go below 4% again. We’ve bottomed out.” Yet here we are. My sense is if rates keep going down it’ll only increase competition and artificially inflate prices. That would be temporarily nice for buyers, but an unfortunate byproduct is low rates in a wider picture tend to create less incentive for sellers to move. Why sell if you’re sitting on a 3.5% mortgage rate?

Purplebricks & the tech invasion: Last week it was announced that Purplebrickswill be exiting the United States housing market after a 75% loss in shares. This company is going to the grave in the U.S., but the reality is we’re still in a market where tech companies are trying to disrupt the traditional real estate model. Next up? Zillow is said to be coming to Sacramento by the end of the year.

Joe Montana’s $49M overpriced listing: Former Quarterback Joe Montana listed his property for $49M and it didn’t sell because it was profoundly overpriced. In fact, the price has now been reduced to $28M. Many sellers are like Joe in trying to attract mythical unicorn buyers who will mysteriously overpay for some reason. My advice? Be aware that today’s buyers are incredibly picky about paying the right price.

The dream of selling at the top: I met a guy who wants to sell because he says the market might top out soon. His concern is a friend sold two years ago thinking the market was at its peak, but it wasn’t. The truth is it’s not so easy to time a market perfectly. We talk about how simple it is to do this, but most people pull it off from dumb luck more than anything. The reality is the bulk of buyers don’t buy based on price metrics, but rather lifestyle and affordability.

This is a fascinating chart, right? It shows a few price cycles over the past twenty years in Sacramento County. I don’t share this to say prices are about to change directions, but at some point that’s probably what we ought to expect because that’s what markets do. They go up and down. For now price momentum has been slowing and we’ll continue to watch this closely to see how it plays out. Let’s remember the collapse we saw in 2005 was not a normal trend that’s now the formula for the next price cycle. That was a market built on fraud and rampant speculation.

The coming recession: There are lots of predictions about a coming recession, and at some point one will happen. But predicting recession specifics is a bit like predicting housing market specifics. At the end of the day we might have ideas, but we don’t know the future if we’re honest. Moreover, the last “great” recession isn’t now the template or formula for all future recessions.

Eyeballs vs offers: Over two years ago I wrote about a $250M listing in Bel-Air. At the time it was the highest-priced property in the United States, and it was called “record breaking”. But today it’s still on the market and priced at $150M. Despite going viral and having global attention this listing did not sell. This reminds us it’s nice to have eyeballs on a listing, but the only thing that matters is offers. Sellers, if you aren’t getting offers, it may be time to adjust your pricing until the market bites.

Preparing for a slower season: At this time of year we typically see the market begin to slow down. The sales stats don’t show it yet, but when July stats come out we usually see it starts to take slightly longer to sell in July compared to June. This is a clue into a slowing market, and eventually we see more slowness in actual prices (but it often takes a few months to see the slow trend show up in actual sales stats). This is a good reminder to pay close attention to pendings today because that’s where we see what the current market is doing. What is similar and actually getting into contract? That is THE question.

I could write more, but let’s get visual instead.


1) SLOWER GROWTH: The market has moved forward this year, but it’s been at a slower pace. In other words, the market has felt competitive this year, but price momentum has continued to slow. Remember, “slower” and “slow” are not dirty words in real estate. They are market realities.

2) A QUICK RECAP: All year prices have shown a modest uptick. What I mean is prices are up from last year, but not by much. Keep in mind the lowest prices are likely the “hottest” market in town too.

3) VOLUME SLUMP: The number of sales has slumped in the region for 14 months (and 13 months in Sacramento County). Overall volume is noticeably lower this year, but it’s still not outside of normal low ranges though either (see 2014 and 2015).


Key Stats:

  • June volume down 11.6%

  • Volume is down 9.9% over the past 12 months


Key Stats:

  • June volume down 13.4%

  • Volume is down 9.3% over the past 12 months


Key Stats:

  • June volume is down 10%

  • Volume is down 9.2% over the past 12 months


Key Stats:

  • June volume down 6.3%

  • Volume is down 12.4% over the past 12 months

4) PRICES TICKED UP IN JUNE: The market generally showed price increases last month, though they were pretty subtle.

NOTE: Take El Dorado County data with a grain of salt. Stats change significantly month by month.

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SACRAMENTO REGION (more graphs here):

SACRAMENTO COUNTY (more graphs here):

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