OC Housing Report – The Neutral Zone

After three months of a slight Buyer’s Market, Orange County

housing has moved back to a Balanced Market


Let’s paint a picture. It is the end of the school year and time for thousands to graduate from college and embark on the next chapter in their lives. Arenas and stadiums across the country will bestow degrees to young adults eager to make their mark on the world. Their heads are filled with the highest expectations: instant job offers, the job of their choice, and an attractive salary. Then, reality sets in. They move back in with their parents. Their résumé is distributed to a myriad of companies, but there is no instant offer. Finally, after months of looking, they stumble upon an entry level position that pays very little. It all boils down to unrealistic expectations.


Similarly, sellers in 2019 are experiencing the plight of unrealistic expectations. Many are coming on the market expecting a hot Seller’s Market in the spring like 2012 through 2018: instant offers, instant success, full price offers, and buyers tripping over themselves to purchase their home. That is just not the Spring Market in 2019. Like college graduates, it all boils down to unrealistic expectations. 


The Spring Market is officially here. Now that the New England Patriots have clinched yet another Super Bowl victory, the housing market moves to THE very best time of the year to sell a home, from now through the end of April. That is three months of perfect market conditions, rising demand and not as much seller competition. The Expected Market Time (the amount of time it will take to list a home today and place it into escrow down the road) drops to its lowest level of the year and remains there through April. 


Buyer demand peaks in May and slowly drops from there. At the same time, the active inventory rises as more homeowners opt to come on the market from May through July. With falling demand and a rising inventory, the Expected Market Time rises. It continues to rise until it peaks, customarily between July and August. Last year, it did not peak until ringing in a New Year because demand dropped considerably while the active inventory continued growing until the end of October.


For the next three months it is the best time to sell a home. In the past couple of weeks, demand jumped by 25%, normal for this time of the year, while the active inventory remained nearly the same. As a result, the Expected Market Time dropped from 128 days, a slight Buyer’s Market, to 102 days, a Balanced Market. It is a market that does not favor buyers or sellers. It was a Balanced Market last year from September through the start of November. It shifted to a slight Buyer’s Market the week of Thanksgiving, but just shifted back to balance within the last two weeks with stronger demand. Since January 1st, demand has increased by 51% and the active inventory has only increased by 10%; thus, the huge drop in the Expected Market Time.


Right now, the Orange County housing market is a Balanced Market, noticeably different than past seven years when it leaned heavily in favor of sellers. That is when sellers called the shots and prices climbed. Many sellers are eagerly coming on the market now anticipating a hot Seller’s Market once again; instead, they are encountering today’s Balanced Market. Homes are sitting on the market longer. There are markedly fewer showings. Success is determined by the sellers who accurately price their homes and pack their patience. The market no longer provided instantaneous success with multiple offers. Only homes that are nicely upgraded, show like a model, and are priced well fly off the market. They are the exception, not the rule. 


The market is not going to get much better than where it is today, balanced. It will most likely remain balanced throughout the Spring Market. In May, as the Expected Market Time starts to rise, slowly, but surely, Orange County housing will become more sluggish and tilt more in the buyer’s favor.




In the past two  weeks, the active inventory decreased by 22 homes, almost no change, and now totals 6,100. The lack of a rise is partially due to increased demand, with more homes going into escrow; but, it is also due to the fact that 5% fewer homes have come on the market so far this year. Nonetheless, expect the inventory to rise through the Spring and Summer markets as more sellers enter the fray. 


Last year at this time there were 3,981 homes on the market. That means that there are 53% more homes available today. This is the highest level of homes on the market in February since 2012.



Demand, the number of new pending sales over the prior month, continued to soar. In the past couple of weeks, demand increased by 356 pending sales, or 25%, from 1,435 to 1,791. This is typical for this time of the year. For perspective, demand increased by 30% last year, adding an additional 522 pending sales. Demand will continue to rise until peaking sometime in May. 


Even with the increase in demand, it is the lowest reading for this time of the year since 2008. It will continue to be muted compared to recent years.


Last year at this time, there were 495 additional pending sales, 28% more than today.


The current Expected Market Time dropped from 128 days to 102 days in the past two weeks, a Balanced Market (between 90 and 120 days). Last year, the Expected Market Time was at 52 days, a HOT Seller’s Market. 


Orange County Housing Market Summary


  • The active listing inventory decreased by 22 homes in the past two weeks and now totals 6,100, almost unchanged. Last year, there were 3,981 homes on the market, 2,119 fewer than today. There are 53% more homes than last year.
  • In January, 2% fewer homes came on the market below $500,000 compared to 2018, andthere were 19% fewer closed sales. Fewer and fewer homes and condominiums are now pricedbelow $500,000. This price range is continuing to vanish.
  • Demand, the number of pending sales over the prior month, soared in the past two-weeks by 356 pending sales, up 25%, and now totals 1,791, its lowest level for this time of the year since 2008. Last year, there were 2,286 pending sales, 28% more than today.
  • The Expected Market Time for all of Orange County decreased from 128 days two weeks ago to 102 days today, a Balanced Market (between 90 to 120 days) and the highest level for this time of the year since 2011. It was at 52 days last year.
  • For homes priced below $750,000, the market is a slight Seller’s Market (between 60 and 90 days) with an expected market time of 80 days. This range represents 44% of the active inventory and 56% of demand.
  • For homes priced between $750,000 and $1 million, the expected market time is 79 days, a slight Seller’s Market. This range represents 17% of the active inventory and 23% of demand.
  • For homes priced between $1 million to $1.25 million, the expected market time is 112 days, a Balanced Market.
  • For luxury homes priced between $1.25 million and $1.5 million, in the past two weeks, the expected market time decreased from 185 to 144 days. For homes priced between $1.5 million and $2 million, the expected market time decreased from 305 to 209 days. For luxury homes priced between $2 million and $4 million, the expected market time decreased from 314 to 241 days. For luxury homes priced above $4 million, the expected market time decreased from 794 to 582 days. 
  • The luxury end, all homes above $1.25 million, accounts for 31% of the inventory and only 14% of demand.
  • Distressed homes, both short sales and foreclosures combined, made up only 1% of all listings and 1.6% of demand. There are only 18 foreclosures and 41 short sales available to purchase today in all of Orange County, 59 total distressed hom es on the active market, up 3 from two-weeks ago. Last year there were 39 total distressed homes on the market, slightly less than today.
  • There were 1,461 closed residential resales in January, 19% fewer than January 2018’s 1,800 closed sales. January marked an 18% drop from December 2018. The sales to list price ratio was 96.7% for all of Orange County. Foreclosures accounted for just 0.8% of all closed sales, andshort sales accounted for 0.6%. That means that 98.6% of all sales were good ol’ fashioned sellers with equity.


Information taken from Steve Thomas, Orange County Housing Report dated 2/10/19