Orange County Housing Report: Inaccurate Measures

July 30, 2017

Buyers and sellers often rely on the price per square foot as a way to determine the value of a home, but it is just not accurate. 

Price Per Square Foot: Do not rely on the price per square foot as a reliable method to determine a home’s value.

Everybody is looking for a shortcut in establishing the value of a home. Online home valuation tools are now everywhere, Zillow being the most popular. They simply are not accurate. If you can find the fine print and have a math degree to determine what in the world they are saying, these tools are merely approximations of value and frequently have significant errors. If going online and plugging in an address does not work, what about utilizing the price per square foot to secure the value of a home? Unfortunately, it too is just another unreliable shortcut.

The average price per square foot varies from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, street to street, and even home to home. For all of Orange County, the price per square foot in June was $440. In May, it was $459. No, there was not a 4% drop in value from May to June. Instead, it illustrates that this data point cannot be relied upon to determine the value of a home. Just as the median sales price is a poor indicator of the precise increase or decrease in value, the price per square foot is unquestionably as unreliable.

Applying the average price per square foot to different sized homes to determine the value results in a major error in comparing it to the true average sales price. In Orange County, a 3,000 square foot home comes close, but is still $29,000 off, a 2% error. In breaking it down by city, the severity of the errors are similar. In Mission Viejo, for example, there is quite a discrepancy in both the low end and the higher end. In Newport Beach, prices vary considerably for smaller sized homes.

Overall, the price per square foot should not be used to isolate the true value of a home. It can be used, over time, as a gauge to determine which direction home values are moving. Some months it is up, and other months it is down. Yet, over the course of a year, the values will start to paint a picture that illustrates the direction of the market.

So, why can’t the price per square foot be used to zero in on the value of a home? There are way too many nuances that go into the Fair Market Value of a home. The number of bedrooms and bathrooms, lot size, usable lot, square footage, location, pool, spa, upgrades, amenities, condition, main floor bedroom, number of stories, school zone, privacy, architecture, floor plan design, view, garages, street parking, proximity to the beach, and so on, all determine a home’s value. Does the home back to a busy street? Is it located on a cul-de-sac that has homes on only one side of the street? Is there street noise? The list of questions goes on and on.

Square footage alone cannot determine if a home has been updated, upgraded, or is in turnkey condition.

Professional REALTORS® and appraisers take a home and compare it to similar pending and recently sold homes, adjusting the value up and down based upon all of the differences. The price per square foot is not really a factor. There are no shortcuts. The market analysis that professionals prepare is by far the most accurate method in determining the value of a home.

Active Inventory: The active inventory may have already peaked after declining by 16 homes in the past couple of weeks.

The active listing inventory shed 16 homes and now sits at 5,967, the first drop since the end of January. Sixteen homes may not be a lot, but it illustrates how the active inventory is having a real hard time pushing past the 6,000 home mark. And, it looks as if that is not going to occur at all this year. Typically, the inventory peaks around mid-August, but not this year. The theme for 2017 has been fewer homeowners listing their homes for sale. There have been 10% fewer homes to come on the market over the past month, and 7% fewer overall this year. As a result, it looks as if the Orange County active inventory may have already peaked, a bit early.

Demand:  Demand increased by 5 pending sales in the past couple of weeks.

Demand, the number of homes placed into escrow within the prior month, increased by 5 pending sales in the past two-weeks and now totals 2,835, nearly the same. Demand is up year over year in every price range except the entry-level market, homes priced below $500,000. With 39% fewer homes available below $500,000 compared to this time last year, predictably, demand is off by 19% year over year.

Luxury End:  Luxury demand increased by 13% in the past couple of weeks and the inventory fell by 1%.

In the past two weeks, demand for homes above $1.25 million increased from 329 to 373 pending sales, a 13% rise, the highest level since mid-May. The luxury home inventory decreased from 2,089 homes to 2,065, down 1%.  This surge has been isolated to homes between $1.25 million and $2 million.

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