By Daniel Goldstein at MarketWatch
Surging rents, skyrocketing real-estate prices and a booming tech sector. Sounds like San Francisco in 2016, right? It also describes the city just before the tech bust of 2000, according to a recent report.
John Burns Real Estate Consulting of Irvine, Calif., and Pacific Union, a San Francisco real-estate brokerage, say that based on the appreciation (and apparent correlation) of venture-capital deals and rent prices, the Bay Area’s rapid property-value and rental-cost appreciation today is looking more like a repeat of the dot-com bust of 2000.
“The San Francisco Bay Area is on our watch list for a correction,” said John Burns, his company’s chief executive, in an interview. He said that while San Francisco has become a permanently more expensive place to live and should be one of the most expensive places to live in the world because of its status as the center of the high-tech and Internet economy, the recent increases in home prices and rents have been fueled mainly by speculation.
“Affluent older buyers, often for investment reasons, have identified San Francisco as a place they want to own or live and have driven up prices dramatically,” he said. About a third of all-cash buyers in the Bay Area are purchasing property only as an investment, he said.
In the city of San Francisco, the median value of homes has skyrocketed, from $670,000 at the beginning of 2012 to $1.12 million this month, a gain of more than 67%, according to Zillow.com, which puts the gain in the past year alone at 14%.
In a separate report in February, Fitch Ratings’ managing director, Grant Bailey, said that home prices in the Bay Area had climbed to an all-time high in the third quarter of 2015 and are now 10% above their prior peak in 2005 and 62% above their postrecession low of early 2012. “Current home prices are now roughly 16% overvalued relative to the underlying supporting economic fundamentals,” Bailey said.
Bailey noted that the surge in Bay Area home prices over the past three years has occurred at an even more accelerated pace than the growth rate during the 2003-06 housing boom and was last observed in the San Francisco area during the dot-com boom, when prices rose roughly 60% from 1997 to 2000. “Bay Area home prices fell roughly 10% in real terms when the dot-com bubble burst,” Bailey said.
Bailey also said that San Francisco–area incomes have historically been a third more volatile than U.S. incomes as well as more dependent on bonuses and stock options and other incentives than incomes in other real-estate markets. The San Francisco market gets 14% of personal income from capital gains, the fourth-highest proportion of any major real-estate market, Bailey said.
“In terms of wages, San Francisco has among the most industry-concentrated labor forces in the country, with almost one-half of all earnings generated across just three sectors,” Bailey said.
But to gauge when a correction might occur, you need to look to venture-capital deals — and rent prices, according to Burns.
Burns and Pacific Union noted that the size of the average venture deal rose from $4.9 million in 1997 to $17 million in 2000, a 243% increase. At the same time, apartment rents in San Francisco and San Jose increased by 52% and 60%, respectively.
Burns also noted that in the three years that followed — as VC funding collapsed during the 2001 recession and the turmoil that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — rents fell with the decline in VC funding, which plunged from an average of $16 million per VC deal in 2001 to just over $7 million by 2004, a decline of over 50%.
During the same time frame, average rents in San Francisco plunged from about $2,300 a month in mid-2001 to about $1,600 by 2004, a decline of about 30%, according to data compiled by Burns’s group from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Axiometrics Inc. and Thomson/Reuters.
Rents in San Jose fell even further, from a similar average of $2,300 a month to $1,400 a month, or a decline of about 39%, Burns’s research showed.
The current tech-sector upswing in the Bay Area is presenting a similar relationship between VC funding and apartment rents, said Burns.
In 2010, the average VC deal in the Bay Area was $6.9 million — a figure that rose to $23.5 million by 2015, Burns said. At the same time, just as in the 1997-to-2000 period, the average monthly rental rates for apartments in San Francisco and San Jose have shot up.
In San Francisco, the average rent soared from about $1,900 a month back in 2010 to more than $3,200 last November, a gain of 68%. In San Jose, the average rent in 2010 was about $1,600 a month. Now it’s $2,800. That’s a 75% rise.
“Rents in San Francisco and San Jose have, respectively, eclipsed prior dot-com bubble peaks,” Burns said. “We think another decline this time around is inevitable.”