30 Years of San Francisco Real Estate Cycles

RECESSIONS, RECOVERIES + BUBBLES

30+ Years of Housing Market Cycles in the San Francisco Bay Area

Updated April 2016

Below is a look at the past 30+ years of San Francisco Bay Area real estate boom and bust cycles, as eloquently explained by our expert chief market analyst, Patrick Carlisle.

Financial-market cycles have been around for hundreds of years, all the way back to the Dutch tulip mania of the 1600’s. While future cycles will vary in their details, the causes, effects and trend lines are often quite similar. Looking at cycles gives us more context to how the market works over time and where it may be going -- much more than dwelling in the immediacy of the present with excitable pronouncements of "The market's crashing and won't recover in our lifetimes!" or "The market's crazy hot and the only place it can go is up!" 


Market Cycles: Simplified Overviews

Up, Down, Flat, Up, Down, Flat...(Repeat) 

The first chart below charts changes in dollar values, according to the Case-Shiller Index method (January 2000 = a home value of 100). The second chart graphs ups and downs by percentage changes at each turning point. 

Smoothing out the bumps delivers the simplified overviews above for the past 30 years. Whatever the phase of the cycle, up or down, while it’s going on people think it will last forever: Every time the market crashes, the consensus becomes that real estate won’t recover for decades. But the economy mends, the population grows, people start families, inflation builds up over the years, and repressed demand of those who want to own their own homes builds up. In the early eighties, mid-nineties and in 2012, after about 4 years of a recessionary housing market, this repressed demand jumps back in (or "explodes" might be a good description) and prices start to rise again. It's not unusual for a big surge in values to occur in the first couple of years after a recovery begins. 

All bubbles are ultimately based on irrational and/or criminal behavior, whether exemplified by junk bonds, Savings & Loan frauds, dotcom stock hysteria, "Dow 30,000" exuberance, "the end of the business cycle" nonsense, gorging on unsustainable debt, runaway greed (without any corresponding desire to produce anything of value) or dishonest financial engineering, but the most recent subprime-financing/ loan-fraud bubble was even more abnormal than usual, because it was fueled by large numbers of buyers purchasing homes that they clearly couldn't afford (liar loans, deceptive teaser rates and the abysmal decline in underwriting standards) with no actual investment in the properties being bought (no down payment, 100%+ loans). 


This Recovery vs. Previous Recoveries

The light blue columns in the above chart graph the home-value appreciation that occurred in the first three years of each recovery - our latest rebound has been somewhat quicker than other recoveries, probably due to 1) the depth of the previous market decline, and 2) the huge, high-tech employment, population and wealth boom that has played out in San Francisco and nearby counties. The gray columns chart the appreciation of past recoveries from the beginning to peak value for each cycle (except for the latest cycle, for which the peak has not yet been defined), and the red bars delineate the percentage declines from those peaks, pursuant to the market adjustments that occurred. As always, note that market appreciation and depreciation rates can vary widely by county, community and neighborhood. 

Surprisingly consistent: Over the past 30+ years, the period between a recovery beginning and a bubble popping has run 5 to 7 years. We are currently about 4 years into the current recovery, which started in early 2012. Periods of market recession/doldrums following the popping of a bubble have typically lasted about 4 years. (The 2001 dotcom bubble and 9-11 crisis drop being the exception.) Generally speaking, within about 2 years of a new recovery commencing, previous peak values (i.e. those at the height of the previous bubble) are re-attained -- among other reasons, there is the recapture of inflation during the doldrums years. In this current recovery, those homes hit hardest by the subprime loan crisis -- typically housing at the lowest end of the price scale in the less affluent neighborhoods, which experienced by far the biggest bubble and biggest crash -- are taking longer to re-attain peak values. However, higher priced homes -- which predominate in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties -- have already surged well past their previous peaks. 

This does not mean that these recently recurring time periods necessarily reflect some natural law in housing market cycles, or that they can be relied upon to predict the future. Real estate markets can be affected by a bewildering number of economic, political and even natural-event factors that are exceedingly difficult to predict.


These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but they may contain errors and are subject to revision. All numbers are approximate and percentage changes will vary slightly depending on the exact begin and end dates used for recoveries, peak prices and bottom-of-market values. 

Copyright 2013-2016 Paragon Real Estate Group.