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Orange County Register: O.C. housing’s HOT summer

OC Register NEW


By Jonathan Lansner

In case you missed it …

If the weather ever cools off, local real estate will look back fondly at this past summer.

Various economic anxieties, from a fear of higher interest rates to the possible negative ramifications of Chinese economic problems, raised doubts about the durability of the housing market’s long-running recovery.

So before autumn takes hold of the Orange County housing market (we’ll leave the weather to others), it’s a good time to review how summer treated the local market.

When I tossed CoreLogic’s third-quarter homebuying report into my trusty spreadsheet a few surprising trends emerged. Here’s four key things you should know about the summer of ’15 in Orange County housing.


This was the busiest summer in 10 years.

There were 10,141 residences sold in the third quarter, up 11 percent from 2014 and 20 percent above the quarterly average since the last summer sales peak in 2005.

But summertime closings, which in many ways reflect shopping patterns of the spring, didn’t run consistently strong this year

July was surprisingly hot, up 15 percent from a year ago. August ran surprisingly chilly – up only 3 percent vs. 2014. Then the market got hot again in September: 15 percent above a year ago.

Tracking month-to-month data is always problematic, because subtle changes even in the calendar can alter comparisons between periods. But I’m guessing that August – often a strong month for home closings – will be weaker in coming years.

More and more school districts are moving up the start of school, to mid-August in some cases. That means shoppers with young children will choose to close on a house earlier in the summer.


In the heat of the past summer, many of the hottest homebuying neighborhoods were also among the most affordable ones.

That’s if you ignore the north Irvine neighborhood – zip 92602 – where the new upscale Orchard Hills community is a hot seller.

My MOCHA measurement of homebuying momentum found the strongest gains in August home purchases and prices were in some of Orange County’s less expensive communities. MOCHA – Measure of Orange County Housing Acceleration – is relatively simple math that uses CoreLogic data to score neighborhood-level activity.

My trusty spreadsheet creates a MOCHA ranking by first pruning the 10 percent of ZIPs with the least selling activity. Next, I rank the remaining 74 ZIPs both by year-over-year sales percentage growth and year-over-year price change. A MOCHA score is the average of the sales and price rankings. Higher scores indicate the hottest ZIPs; low scores are the coolest.

How did MOCHA put Irvine 92602 – with a third-quarter median selling price of $1 million – on top? Its price gain of 37 percent in a year was the county’s second best. Sales were up 92 percent, which was number one.

After that affluent neighborhood, the next strongest homebuying momentum can be found to the north, in communities with median sales prices well below north Irvine and the countywide third-quarter median price of $613,500.

Santa Ana 92701 ranked second. Its third-quarter median of $355,000 was up 54 percent in a year, the county’s best gain. And that didn’t stop sales from jumping 68 percent, third best.

Ranked third by MOCHA was Stanton 90680 – with a median price of $400,000. It posted a price gain of 15 percent in a year, the seventh best. Sales were up 62 percent, which was fifth best.

MOCHA’s No. 4 ZIP was Anaheim 92804, with a median of $480,000. Fifth was Santa Ana 92704, which had a median of $400,000. Sixth was Fullerton 92831, with a median of $572,050.

Price factors into shoppers’ geographic choice. Brandywine Homes is finding that house hunters are choosing where to live based on what they can get for their dollars. The homebuilder has two similarly priced projects in Orange County with wildly different audiences.

“In Costa Mesa, the buyers are primarily young first-time homebuyers and are typically professionals without children,” says Brandywine vice president Dave Barisic. “In Yorba Linda, however, we have families, empty nesters, people moving down from larger properties, even retirees.”


Not everyone is a bargain hunter.

This economy has been good to the upper crust. Just look at luxury home sales, which grew by one measure at roughly the same pace as the overall market.

In the 10 Orange County ZIP codes with median selling prices above $1 million, sales totaled 773 homes, up 12 percent compared to a year ago. (By the way, the most expensive ZIPs were Newport Beach 92662, with a median of $3.5 million; and Newport Coast 92657, at $2.57 million.

That kind of sales strength did not extend to a broader definition of real estate’s “upper crust” – the 27 priciest ZIPs. In those neighborhoods – with median sales price beginning at $706,000 – sales were up compared to a year ago, but only by 7.3 percent. Contrast that with sales in the 27 least expensive ZIPs – median sales price at $530,000 and below – which were up 13.3 percent year-over-year.

Steve High, president of Villa Real Estate, a Newport Beach-based brokerage that caters to Orange County’s coastal communities, says the recent strength of the luxury market reflects wealthy Orange County owners returning to the market, either to downsize their living arrangements or find homes that better meet new housing needs.

Foreign buyers, notably Chinese, were a significant part of Orange County’s luxury home market the past few years. This year’s economic turbulence in China, as well as in other overseas economies, has raised some questions about how the local market would handle the potential loss of foreign buyers.

“The locals are giving the market a vote of confidence,” High says.


Yes, Orange County’s median home price is up 5 percent in a year. But when you look at prices from spring to summer, a mild cooling trend can been seen.

The Orange County median dipped 2.1 percent from June to September. That’s not terribly unusual. Last year, prices fell 2.7 percent in summer. The median has fallen from the second quarter to the third quarter in eight of the last 12 years.

Part of the seasonal dip is market reaction to the end of the traditional spring rush and the family orientation of earlier-in-the-year homebuyers. These shoppers tend to buy larger – thus pricier – housing.

Since 1988, the Orange County median has dipped an average of 0.6 percent in the third quarter – the weakest three-month period – after rising on average of 4.1 percent in the second quarter – the strongest three months, historically speaking.

Even if softer summertime prices are to be expected, I’m not going to totally ignore this midyear stagnation of what Orange County homebuyers are willing to pay when the local job market is the strongest it’s been in roughly 15 years.

It was the hottest summer for homebuying in a decade, but those shoppers weren’t aggressively paying up. That’s a trend worth watching, especially if you’re a seller.