The Big Story

What to expect when you’re expecting inflation

Quick Take:

  • The number of homes sold in 2021 is set to be one of the highest on record.
  • Inflation reached a 31-year high in October 2021, primarily due to pandemic-related supply chain issues. 
  • Consumers grapple with inflation while corporate profits and the S&P 500 reach all-time highs, highlighting the disconnect between profits and wage growth.
  • Home price increases are decelerating after the record-setting gains experienced over the past 16 months.
  • The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate remained historically low, at 3.10% at the end of November 2021.

Note: You can find the charts & graphs for the Big Story at the end of the following section.

Inflation: Short-lived or long-term?

By now, you’ve likely run across a headline regarding the large inflation jump we’ve experienced over the past six months. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably noticed a general increase in prices for things like gas and food over the past couple of months. The last significant long-term inflationary period was in the 1970s when inflation expectations created a feedback loop largely because unions were common and had more bargaining power. As prices rose, union workers demanded higher pay, which increased operating costs and fueled rising prices. But 2020-21 is quite different from the 1970s. Currently, companies are using inflation as a mostly bad-faith excuse to raise prices during a time of record corporate profits, which will benefit companies as consumers bear the burden of rising costs. This is likely the unfortunate feedback loop we will see during the next six months. All that to say, as consumer costs rise, we might see demand for housing decline. With fewer experiences to spend money on during the pandemic, savings shot up, allowing potential homebuyers to reach their down payment goals far more quickly than expected. Inflation will cut into our ability to save. 

Unlike a normal business cycle, the pandemic is still disrupting the global supply chain, with fewer dock/port workers and truck drivers as well as continued international travel restrictions. This is compounded by the pandemic-related shifts in consumer preferences: consumers are choosing physical goods rather than services. The demand for physical goods isn’t unique to the U.S., either — the whole world is trying to recover economically with a move toward physical goods, which is stressing the supply chain. The good news, however, is that inflation will likely fall around summer 2022 and shouldn’t mimic the decade-long inflationary period of the 1970s. The bad news is that it isn’t coming down today.

Although not necessarily a strict supply chain issue, the rising cost of housing can definitely be tied to supply. In the U.S., the supply of houses for sale is still near the all-time low reached in April. At the same time, demand remains high for homes, and we are on pace to have around a million more homes sold in 2021 than in a typical year, based on the long-term average. In other words, more homes are selling despite the historically low inventory. Because inflation diminishes the purchasing power of a dollar over time, buyers face pressure to buy sooner rather than later, further increasing demand for homes. Coupling inflation with historically low mortgage rates creates incentives to buy now even with the run-up in prices.

The market remains competitive for buyers, but conditions are making it an exceptional time for homeowners to sell. Low inventory means sellers will receive multiple offers with fewer concessions. Because sellers are often selling one home and buying another, it’s essential that sellers work with the right agent to ensure the transition goes smoothly. 

Big Story Data

Inflation (CPI)
Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index
Corporate Profits
Total Existing Home Sales in the United States
15-and 30-year fixed mortgage rates

The Local Lowdown

Wine Country cools while Marin and Solano warm

Quick Take:

  • Single-family home prices increased dramatically in 2021. From January through October, single-family home prices rose across counties, while condo prices struggled to appreciate:
    • Marin County: +22% for single-family homes; -16% for condos
    • Napa County: +5% for single-family homes; -21% for condos
    • Solano County: +13% for single-family homes; +4% for condos
    • Sonoma County: +7% for single-family homes; -1% for condos
  • Despite historically low inventory, the increase in home sales and speed of sales reflect the high demand in the North Bay.
  • Months of Supply Inventory further indicates a sellers’ market.

Note: You can find the charts/graphs for the Local Lowdown at the end of this section.

Home prices hit a ceiling (mostly)

After single-family home prices appreciated significantly in the first half of the year, it makes sense that prices are declining in the third and fourth quarters. Napa and Sonoma counties experienced the largest declines in the second half of the year. Home prices are still historically high, but year-over-year price appreciation is decelerating. We expect price appreciation will be more muted as we make our way into the winter months.

Condo prices in Marin County and Napa County declined dramatically in the second half of 2021, while Sonoma County saw a milder decline. Solano was the only county that saw a rise in condo prices through 2021. With fewer single-family homes on the market, we could see a rebound in condo demand as we make our way through the end of the year.

Home supply peaked at a low level

Despite the increase in single-family home inventory in 2021, we’re still at a historic low. The summer months typically have the highest inventory. In 2021, total inventory didn’t come close to last year’s level and was even further away from pre-pandemic levels. Even though we’re seeing some price correction after the first half of the year, the sustained low inventory will lift prices. Sales in the North Bay have been incredibly high, again highlighting demand in the area.

Homes are selling fast — really fast

Homes are selling faster than at any point in the past 15 years. The Days on Market reflects the high demand for homes in the North Bay. Buyers must put in competitive offers, which, on average, are 1–5% above the list price of the home. 

Months of Supply Inventory (MSI) quantifies the supply/demand relationship by measuring how many months it would take for all current homes for sale on the market to sell at the current rate of sales. The average MSI is three months in California, which indicates a balanced market. An MSI lower than three indicates that there are more buyers than sellers on the market (meaning it’s a sellers’ market), while a higher MSI indicates there are more sellers than buyers (meaning it’s a buyers’ market). MSI in the North Bay is at a five-year low for single-family homes and condos. Currently, the Napa single-family home market implies a more balanced market, while all other markets indicate a sellers’ market.

Local Lowdown Data

North Bay Median Home Prices
North Bay Median Price Changes
North Bay Median Home Prices
North Bay Median Price Changes
North Bay Inventory-Single-Family Homes
North Bay Inventory-Condos
North Bay Days on Market
DOM by county
North Bay Months of Supply Inventory
MSI by County

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