‘The Front Steps’: Anatomy of a (Past) Richmond Housing Crash

“Okay, but what if a housing crash DOES happen?”

That was pretty much the response we got to last week’s column noting that, while housing prices will certainly go down to a significant degree eventually and there are probably good reasons to imagine it this year, anybody claiming they know when/if it’ll happen is simply promising the impossible.

And yes, okay, that’s a fair question. But by the same token, nobody can really say what the next crisis will do, any more than they can tell you exactly when it will come. Because nobody can predict the future; it feels weird even having to specify that, but there are whole industries devoted to making you assume they really can.

But for the truly (or even morbidly) curious, we CAN look to the past and see what happened the last time we suffered a housing crisis. Here’s a quick review of the 2008 mortgage collapse, married to a survey of its effects on housing accessibility right here in the Richmond.

At the dawn of 2008, when only a handful of people suspected what the future held for housing and America in general, 383 homes had sold in the neighborhood in the previous 12 months, and the median price was sitting at around $990K, up more than 12.8 percent from the previous year.

Already at this point in the year a lot of indicators were trending down nationally. Three months or so in, Bear Stearns, previously one of the most stolid and conservative seeming financial institutions in America, evaporated after a series of disasters tied directly to their mortgage dealings.

(The onetime Bear Stearns building; we hardly knew ye.)

Looking at the St. Louis Fed residential sales timeline for 2008, we can see that home prices nationwide dropped a bit in the first quarter of 2008–but then perhaps surprisingly rebounded, rising almost right back to the level they had before Bear’s extinction the next quarter.

Here in the Richmond, 60 homes sold in the first quarter of 2008, and the price crept up over $1 million. In the second quarter, post-Bear, 119 sales closed, and media prices stayed above $1 million, and in fact rose a hair more.

Keep in mind during this period, things were far from calm nationally: Congress passed a tax rebate bill for housing lenders in February, and the Fed started issuing bailouts in March. The Fed’s Term Auction Facility, launched in 2007, was handling tens of billions and finally hundreds of billions in assets through June.

In July of 2008, Secretary of the Treasure Hank Paulson called for a bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies that between them had a hand in almost half of America’s mortgage debt. In September, the federal government took over both companies in a conservatorship.

Nationally, housing prices began a tumble, and in the Richmond things declined too: Between July and the end of September, volume was 78 sales and the average price $890K, down from 103 and $928K during the same period one year prior.

Over the next three months, volume in the neighborhood shrank again, to just 56 homes; but, oddly, the price went UP, to a median of $960K.

No dice for the next quarter though: Volume dropped 50 percent, and the median sale was $810,000, a decline of about 16 percent year over year.

(Photo by Thomas Hawk)

This was during that period when huge banks like AIG and Lehman Brothers collapsed, the Bailout Bill (as we all came to call it) passed, and during one week in September investors withdrew a record $172 billion.

Housing prices in the Richmond bounced around the next two years, steadily rising and then receding again (as low as $785K for a home in 2011) before finally taking off in 2012 to begin an ascent that continues to this day.

Well okay, that was a lot of numbers–but what does it all mean? To some people, this was a period of lost jobs, lost homes, and lost opportunities–maybe you were one of them.

Others among us were luckier, riding out the crisis without ever really noticing the hit to their home values, and maybe you were one of those.

Some of you may even be too young to remember any of this, in which case please excuse us while our blood turns to mummy dust.

Nobody guessed during the doldrums of 2011 that SF real estate was about to fly into the stratosphere and not come back down for a decade. During that time, housing has ignored even more predictions about a looming collapse than Steph Curry.

This is not to say everything’s going to be all right. Quite the inverse, our message (as always) is probably just don’t trust anybody who says they know what will happen; that’s why we stick to telling you what’s going on already.

Industry leaders in real estate marketing, market data, gossip, and news…theFrontSteps.com

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