Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: Richmond Houses Never Stopped Selling During the Pandemic

When reading and writing about housing, it’s easy to get hung up on prices; after all, that’s the bottom line.

But there are other, possibly better ways to measure how strong or weak a housing market is; for example, we could consider volume, which is to say, how many houses change hands during a given period.

If we wanted to compare the state of Richmond housing volume to what it was 12 months ago, when the pandemic was about to reach its terrible crescendo, what kind of numbers would we expect to be dealing with?

In general, First Tuesday Journal notes that “decreased economic expectations and still-high home prices in the region […] caused homebuyer enthusiasm to wane sharply in 2020,” so if we were laying bets on it, we’d probably expect housing in a specific neighborhood like the Richmond to take a big dip in volume last year and hopefully rebound this year.

To test this, we added up single-family home sales since January across the 94118 and 94121 ZIP codes (these areas of course spill outside of the Richmond around the margins, but for convenience we’ll run with it): In all, 401 houses traded hands so far this year. Additionally, eight MLS listings expired in the neighborhood, and 47 ended up cancelled.

This same time last year, 371 homes had sold. So at first blush that’s what we’d expect: About an eight percent increase year over year would seem to represent a recovery from the pandemic on the level we might anticipate.

Where it gets interesting though is when we check back even further: At the beginning of November in 2019, the neighborhood had seen 349 sales.

You read that right: Even at the acme of 2020, Richmond volume was UP compared to the previous year. The 2019 figure was actually down a little bit from the previous year’s 363, but that’s a relatively minor variance. For the most part, the trend for years on end has been more and more Richmond homes selling every year, including in 2020, the one time we’d expect that number to take a tumble.

(Since 2021 isn’t over yet, these comparison figures are also just for the first ten months of the year; however, the trend remains consistent for past years if we add in the final months as well.)

The Richmond’s 2020 did see a marked increase in cancelled listings: By November, sellers had yanked 68 houses off the market, up quite a bit from the 41 and 51 respectively from the previous two years.

Lots of factors contribute to cancelled listings, but in this case it’s not unreasonable to speculate that some of these were folks who just decided it was better to wait until the world sorted itself out a bit.

But that evidently didn’t make a big dent in overall buying and selling for the year. For comparison, SF citywide pretty much broke even in 2020, selling 2,782 single-family properties for all of 2020, versus 2,765 the year before.

What conclusions do we draw from this? First, that as usual, no matter what the circumstances, people seem to really, really want to buy in the Richmond and nearby areas.

Also of note is the fact that generally, condo demand is much more volatile than demand for full SF houses, and condos make up a very small percentage of the Richmond housing stock–just 197 have sold in these two ZIPs so far this year, against more than 3,900 citywide.

That means the Richmond stays a little steadier than much of the rest of the city, even during the worst of times.

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