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July 12, 2008

The Los Gatos real estate market is composed of many micro-markets in housing type, location, price point and condition. A Los Gatos condo in one school district may be in an entirely different type of market than an estate home with a view of the Santa Clara Valley or a golf course, of course.

Overall, though, the market here in Los Gatos is healthier than in many other areas within Silicon Valley. One one of measuring the health of the housing market is to follow the absorption rate. The absorption rate reflects the amount of time it would take for the current inventory of homes for sale to be bought up if no new homes came on the market and sales continued at their current pace. It can be days of inventory, weeks of inventory, or months of inventory tracked.

The National Association of Realtors uses 6 months of inventory as the tipping point between the market favoring buyers vs sellers. Under 6 months’ inventory is said to be a sellers’ market, and over 6 months is said to be a buyers’ market. In the San Jose area, though, we are behind on housing starts and are used to homes selling fairly quickly, so most sellers will not feel as though 4, 5, or nearly 6 months’ of inventory is really a market in their favor. They expect to sell in a few weeks, not a few months.

Here’s a graph I did of the months of inventory in the Los Gatos real estate market for the first half of 2008 (in green) and also, for comparison’s sake, the first half of 2007:

Graph comparing the Los Gatos real estate market's absorption rate in the first half of 2008 vs same months in 2007.

As you can see, the market was worse for buyers (better for sellers) in the same timeframe in 2007 as it is now. Since the months of inventory is a ratio of that month’s closed sales to its active inventory, this data really reflects the month or so prior in terms of when purchase agreements were signed and accepted. So looking at the numbers in April really shows you what was happening appx 30 days earlier (most of our escrows are about 30 days long). In 2008, then, May and June were much better than the 4 months prior, and they reflect contracts written in April and May. June 2008 wasn’t bad compared to earlier in the year, but clearly, the peak of the market was April because May’s closings were the best.

Other data supports this too. I have a subscription to the Real Estate Report and the numbers there suggest that the highest median and average sales prices for single family homes peaked in April too (go to the page for Los Gatos and view the graphs).

Much of 2008 has been off in terms of the usual sales patterns but most years, the peak of the market is somewhere around March or April. At that point, prices frequently hit their high point of the year – great for sellers, not so great for buyers. By summer, the market cools down most years and sellers may be frustrated that they are not seeing the prices from a couple of months earlier in the year. For buyers, though, summer can be ideal since inventory is good and sales are a little lower.

No one can predict if the market will go one way or the other, but I would say that buyers are in a good position now if they want to get into a nice Los Gatos home. The loan situation has calmed down and market conditions are favorable for most segments of the Los Gatos real estate market and there’s a nice selection now. My advice to Los Gatos home buyers is simple: don’t wait!