~Welcome to the Econo-Almanac~

I started this website in mid-2004 to chronicle San Diego’s spectacular housing bubble.  The purpose of the site remains, as ever, to provide objective and evidence-based analysis of the San Diego housing market. A quick guide to the site follows:

  • New visitors are advised to begin with the Bubble Primer or (if wondering about the site name) the FAQ list.
  • Housing articles I’ve written are found in the main section below.
  • Discussion topics posted by site users are found in the “Active Forum Topics” box to the lower right.
  • This website is an avocation; by day I help people with their investments as a financial advisor*.  Market commentary, an overview of our investment approach, and more can be found on my firm's website.

Thanks for stopping by…

Housing Market Report: January 2006

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 31, 2006 - 11:56pm

Below I will crunch the local housing price, sales volume, and inventory numbers to get an in-depth look at where the San Diego market stands and where it's likely to go in the months ahead.

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Downtown San Diego's Condo Onslaught

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 27, 2006 - 10:15am

The Voice has another housing-related piece today, this one on the burgeoning condo oversupply in downtown San Diego.

As Premium users learned a couple months back, downtown (otherwise known as Craneville, CA) has an 18 month inventory of condos listed for resale on the MLS. This means that at the rate at which sales took place in 2005, it would take 18 months for all the resale condos to be sold. This doesn't even include new non-MLS listed condos that may be for sale, nor does it include condos under construction that may come online for sale during the next 18 months.

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Credit Market Report: January 2006

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 25, 2006 - 7:28pm

This article contains a review of recent mortgage rate activity, lender tightening (or lack thereof), San Diego borrower behavior, and the current and potential effects of all of the above on the housing market. Also included are some thoughts on what "asset inflation" could mean to our economy.

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Worst Shortage Ever

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 24, 2006 - 10:31pm

Regarding my post on the Myth of the Housing Shortage, one commenter suggested that I look at jobs vs. housing supply instead of of population vs. housing supply. I have done so below, with surprising results:

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The Rise of the Desperate Seller

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 23, 2006 - 11:11am

Today's Voice of San Diego hits on a key driver of home price movements: what they refer to as "desperate sellers"—people who, for one reason or another, need to sell their homes.

To understand their importance, let us first imagine a world without desperate sellers. In such a world, a home price decline of any significance would be highly unlikely. If housing demand declined such that homes weren't fetching the desired prices, most homeowners would just take their homes off the market and stay put. They would, in the words of my friend Gary London, "lock their doors instead of locking in losses." The resulting decrease in the supply of homes for sale would balance out the decline in demand and stabilize prices.

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A Warning Light on OC's Dashboard

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 20, 2006 - 10:31am

The OC Register has an interesting piece on a surge in delinquent property taxes that has the Orange County treasurer a little worried. The treasurer, who seems like a pretty sharp guy, wonders, "[A]re we observing the beginning of a trend or is this a blip?"

People who rely on "traditional" measures of economic health, such as wage growth or unemployment, are missing a big piece of what makes the SoCal economy go: home equity extraction. Lacking a good city-specific way to measure home equity extraction, one of the best ways to get a handle on the health of a given area's homeowners is by observing rates of change of property tax and mortgage defaults. We are only now beginning to see increases, but I believe that with the amount of adjustable-rate debt out there, we will start to see a lot more homeowner fiscal trouble in 2006 and beyond.

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We Are the Champions

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 18, 2006 - 10:28am

The latest PMI Risk Index is out. I think these reports are hopelessly optimistic—for instance, after an unbroken winning streak in which prices more than tripled despite the lack of any demographic reason to have done so, San Diego is designated as having only a 59% chance of seeing even a tiny price decline. The reports do have some utility, however, in that we can at least get a sense of what the mortgage insurers think are the relative risks between different areas. We Southern Californians should be unsurprised to see that, as with China's Olympic swimmers, our artificially pumped-up home team has dominated the winner's list. For your convenience I have assembled a table below that shows both the PMI Risk Index results for local areas along with a column indicating each area's level of housing valuation relative to historical average (see these valuation charts for more background).

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The U-T's 2005 San Diego Housing Wrap-Up

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 17, 2006 - 10:24am
The Union-Tribune is running a great article on the state of the San Diego housing market. The article includes two sidebars that I found extremely interesting: a graphic showing appreciation by area, and a PDF file rounding up home prices for the entire county. Fellow data-nerds should find hours of amusement combing through these two files.
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Visions of the Future

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 16, 2006 - 12:22am

This Voice of San Diego housing prediction roundup, along with a commenter's question on the topic, has motivated me to write about forecasting, vis-à-vis whether it is is a complete waste of time. And the answer is: yes. Or no. Or, it depends, I guess.

Alright, let me start from the start, using a familiar graph as a jumping point:

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When Bubbles Burst

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 8, 2006 - 7:02pm
Housing bubbles typically take years to deflate completely. In today's LA Times, however, an article on the burst of the Shanghai housing bubble demonstrates that even real estate is not immune to dramatic turns to the downside. After a period of rampant speculation and overbuilding that drove Shanghai home prices to double in three years (not terribly far, I would note, from the 5 years it took Southern California real estate to do the same), the market has rapidly taken a turn for the worse, with some condo prices having dropped 50% since March. That's not a mistake—prices have dropped 50%. Don't the Chinese realize that real estate only goes up? Perhaps we should send someone from NAR over to let them know.
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Stated Income Loans—Now There's a Great Idea

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 7, 2006 - 9:13pm

The folks at the Voice of San Diego are on a rampage with their continuing series on articles on housing-related chicanery. Their most recent piece focuses on mortgage fraud—specifically, the ever-popular stated income mortgage, otherwise known as a "liar's loan." While it's impossible to know how many people are overstating their incomes, the article quotes one mortgage professional as estimating (conservatively) that 25% of stated-income mortgages are fraudulent. Another mortgage executive acknowledged the "let it go" culture within the industry, supporting my frequent assertion that people tend to turn a blind eye to fraud as long as everyone is making money. This is an important topic, and we have by no means heard the last about it.

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Housing Slowdown Starting to Cause Real Pain

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 7, 2006 - 12:45pm

A good friend of mine named Ramsey enjoyed a multi-decade career in the San Diego real estate industry before more recently becoming a full-time stock trader. Between his knowledge of the local housing scene and of economics and financial markets he is able to routinely come up with some very interesting analysis. He usually shares his insights with me over beef tendons, pig ears, jellyfish, and other frightening "delicacies" during our weekly meetings at local Chinese restaurants with questionable ratings from the Department of Health.

Today, however, he spared me the entrail-eating experience and sent me an interesting email in which he posits that the local real estate industry is already experiencing "layoffs" of a sort due to the housing slowdown. Ramsey's email is reprinted below in its entirety:

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Are Interest Rates About to Drop?

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 6, 2006 - 8:03pm

PIMCO's Bill Gross has written an interesting, if somewhat dense, piece in which he opines that both short- and long-term bond yields are close to topping out. In (very) brief, his thinking is that the lagged effect of rate increases to date will soon start to cause the type of economic slowdown that has historically preceeded lower bond yields.

I find it troubling to question the wisdom of the world's biggest bond investor, and more troubling still to maintain that "this time is different." That said, it seems to me that Mr. Gross' analysis does not fully account for the fact that U.S. interest rates (at least on the long end) are largely controlled by foreign investors. This dynamic—or, at very least, the magnitude of its effect—truly is a new development. Foreign investors in U.S. debt, most especially central banks, have a different set of priorities than Treasury buyers of yore, and it's not clear to me that a U.S. economic slowdown will induce a decline in long rates this time around. Foreigners may find reason to sell U.S. bonds regardless of the state of our economy.

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Piggington Goes North

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 3, 2006 - 8:43pm

Southern California is our beat here at the Econo-Almanac. But when an enterprising reader sent me a table full of data on the San Francisco Bay Area, I couldn't help but throw it into a graph. I figured that with the effects of the dot-com boom and subsequent bust, the Bay Area would be an altogether different animal than SoCal. But that wasn't really the case at all. While Bay Area home prices took off sooner and have proved a little more volatile, the end result is very similar: home sale prices rose much faster than rents.

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Appraisal Reform Efforts: Too Little, Too Late

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 3, 2006 - 9:00am

The Voice of San Diego has run a followup story on appraisal fraud, this time discussing the middling reform efforts currently underway. As an example, the state senate is considering a bill "that would require any person who initiates a mortgage to have a certified broking license."

While it's encouraging that the appraisal fraud issue is being recognized, I don't think that a few grasping attempts at further oversight will solve this problem. It is the nature of end-stage speculative bubbles: there is too much to be gained by continuing fraudulent behavior, and too much to be lost be halting it. Once the bubble is deflating in earnest, the appraisal fraud problem will fix itself. By then, however, the damage will have been done. I can only hope that the powers that be use the opportunity to put in place a regulatory system that will prevent fraud from getting out of control during the next housing boom.

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