A Survey of San Francisco Bay Area
Real Estate Markets & Demographics
Which counties are most expensive or most affordable, have the highest overbidding and appreciation rates? Which are healthiest, most educated, have the highest incomes or worst poverty percentages? What cities have the biggest, most expensive homes? And where do Bay Area residents come from?
August 2017 Report
Median House Price Appreciation since 1990
Appreciation trend lines are largely similar across the Bay Area, but some counties have outperformed others. Solano is still well below its previous peak price ten years ago, and Sonoma and Napa are just now coming back up to their previous highs. Most of the other counties have exceeded their 2006-2007 peaks, sometimes by very wide margins. As will be explored further below, proximity to the heart of the high-tech boom has been one of the major factors in recent appreciation rates. Still, it is worth noting that in the past year and a half, appreciation rates in less expensive towns and neighborhoods have typically been higher than in more expensive areas, an indication of the sometimes desperate search for affordable housing – however that might be defined within the context of any given market.
Average Dollar per Square Foot Values
The Most Expensive Places in the Bay Area
By clicking on map, you can also access our full collection of home price
maps delineating current city home prices throughout the Bay Area.
Note: Diablo in Contra Costa with 6 sales at a median price of $2,731,000, and Penngrove in Sonoma with 13 sales at a median price of $919,500, had higher prices than Alamo and Healdsburg in the period measured, but because of their very low number of sales, we highlighted the larger markets on the map above.
Annual Home Price Appreciation Rates
since 1996 and 2011
This table below illustrates annual compound appreciation trends going back to the post-recession recovery that began around 1995, and also from the current post-2008-crash recovery which started in 2012. This is based upon someone purchasing their home all cash: If one had purchased with a 20% downpayment, then the annual compound rate of appreciation of that cash investment would be much, much higher.
There are 3 big factors behind local appreciation rates: 1) the emergence of the Bay Area in the past 20 years as an international, economic powerhouse, which generally lifted all markets, 2) how close the specific market is to the white-hot centers of the high-tech boom (SF and Silicon Valley), and, 3) how badly the county was hammered by the foreclosure crisis, since those markets whose prices fell 50% or more to unnatural lows bounced back more on a percentage basis than those counties less affected by the subprime catastrophe.
SF has had the highest compound annual appreciation rate since 1996: It is the epicenter of the Bay Area high-tech, bio-tech and fin-tech economic miracle. But Oakland soars above all other markets in appreciation since 2011, because of a combination of factors: It is the closest affordable alternative to much higher SF prices; it is a lively, multi-cultural urban area appealing to high-tech workers; and its housing prices dropped an astounding 60% after the 2008 crash, which set them up to fly upward once the heavy anchor of distressed property sales was removed.
Having complete confidence in our ability to predict what will happen in the past, we now recommend that all our clients go back in time to 1995 or 2011 and buy as many homes as possible.
Economic & Demographic Factors
Underpinning the Bay Area real estate market and general economy are often amazing, but sometimes worrisome statistics. Below are tables and charts ranking counties, zip codes and cities by a variety of parameters. The Bay Area ranks extremely high in income, education, employment rates and general health factors, often grabbing almost all the top rankings, but it is also unhappily high in income inequality, housing unaffordability and poverty.
Bay Area City & Zip Code Income Rankings
Atherton has the highest median household income and the highest median income per worker in the state, followed by a handful of other nearby, highly affluent, Silicon Valley communities. In San Francisco, South Beach and the Presidio zip codes make the top rankings, but note that several of the most expensive neighborhoods in SF are in zip codes that mix highly affluent with less affluent areas (such as Pacific Heights and Western Addition, or Russian Hill and the Tenderloin). SF also has much higher percentages of residents who are tenants, and generally speaking, renters have lower incomes than homeowners.
In Marin County, Belvedere, Tiburon, Kentfield and Mill Valley make the lists; in Contra Costa, the Diablo Valley & Lamorinda communities of Blackhawk, Alamo, Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga rank highest; in Alameda, Piedmont is in the top 10 cities for median worker earnings.
Bay Area zip codes utterly dominate the CA rankings for higher education, taking 14 of the top 15 spots out of about 2600 zip codes. Unsurprisingly, high positions in income usually correlate with the same in education (and having UC Berkeley and Stanford in our midst was a help): Top Bay Area Zip Codes for Higher Education
If you wish to explore Bay Area rankings by other criteria: Top 25 Rankings in California
Employment & Unemployment
High-tech employment in SF & San Mateo Counties illustrates
broader trends in hiring: massive growth and some recent cooling.
Unemployment rates are bumping against historic lows.
Bay Area Poverty Rates & Housing Affordability
Beneath surging affluence, significant percentages of county populations
are living in poverty. High housing costs are a big factor.
Housing affordability percentages are approaching historic lows in some counties,
a huge Bay Area political, economic and social issue. If interest rates start to go up
considerably, the picture will worsen, but so far they have remained quite low.
Bay Area Luxury Home Markets
Santa Clara is by far the biggest luxury home market in the Bay Area by the number of homes selling for $2 million+, but then its overall market is also the largest, more than 2½ times larger than that of San Francisco. Average dollar per square foot values for luxury house sales are surprisingly similar across Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco, with Marin County just a notch lower. Moving further out, one gets considerably more luxury house for the money.
Generally speaking, SF luxury condos and co-ops command the highest dollar per square foot values in the Bay Area: Think fabulous units on high floors of prestige, ultra-amenity buildings with absolutely staggering views.
Calculating luxury markets by the top 10% of sales, the thresholds for the luxury designation vary widely: For example, in Sonoma, the threshold is about $1,125,000 for houses, while in San Francisco, it is about $3 million.
Other Angles on Bay Area Market Dynamics
Bay Area Condo Markets
Average Days on Market
Bay Area Market Sizes
Bay Area Rents
Rents are even more sensitive to hiring trends than home prices.
Additional Demographic Snapshots
The foundation of the Bay Area economy is a richly multi-cultural society constantly infused by many of the best and brightest from around the world.
S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index
for the San Francisco Bay Area
Case-Shiller charts are complicated, which is why we have put them at the end of the report, but they do give perspectives on home price appreciation by price segment. The different price tiers had bubbles, crashes and recoveries of very different magnitudes, with the low-price tier having an extravagantly enormous subprime bubble and a disastrous crash, while more costly home tiers having lesser bubbles and crashes. The end result now is that all three tiers are relatively close in their current prices as compared to 2000 values, but are in very different circumstances when compared to their 2006-2007 bubble peaks. Around the Bay Area, generally speaking, San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Santa Clara and Diablo Valley-Lamorinda have high-price tier markets with smaller mid-price segments; Alameda, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and non-central Contra Costa have mixes of low-price and mid-price markets (though there are, of course, pockets of high-price homes as well).
All C-S data points refer to a January 2000 home price of 100. Thus a reading of 250 signifies a price 150% higher than in January 2000.
More affordable homes have been appreciating much more quickly
in the past 15 months than more expensive price segments.
All our reports and articles can be found here: Market Trends & Analysis