Northside SF
Real Estate Update
Is this a good time to buy real estate?

Consumer confidence is shaky. The economy seems to be improving, but it’s still fragile. World news is at once tragic and terrifying, and the media seems to be fanning our fears, creating a general sense of dread.

It sure doesn’t seem like a good time to be buying property. And yet …

If you can see beyond the headlines and choose to make a move when others are more timid, there actually may be no better time. Three or four years from now, you don’t want to find yourself saying, “If only I had bought when the market was low.”

Real estate trends are often viewed with 20/20 hindsight. There is no way to “time” the market. However, as with all investments, you can conduct research, rely on a professional in the field, and look at the big picture.

Here is an important fact – one that is often overlooked while waiting for the “right” time to buy. Buyers may choose to wait for prices to go down, but if interest rates are increasing, you won’t be saving money. In fact, a 5 percent price reduction against an original price is wiped out by a one-half of 1 percent increase in interest rates. Financial sources have told us that rates will climb in 2011. So, ultimately, the home you buy today for $500,000 will cost you less than the same home priced at $475,000 down the road when interest rates are higher. 

Real estate agents talk a lot about CMAs (Comparative Market Analyses), and agents often offer to prepare these reports for their buyers and sellers. The document tells you how many listings are on the market along the lines of what you are looking to buy, or the property you’re wishing to sell. They’re fairly detailed, include photos, and provide context for your search or marketing efforts. The analysis is much more complete than what you might find online. The report will help determine if it’s a “seller’s market,” an “even market” or a “buyer’s market” in your neighborhood, and yes, market conditions can vary from one neighborhood to the next.

One to four months of home inventory is a seller’s market; five to six months of inventory is an even market, and seven plus months of inventory is a buyer’s market. For the purposes of this column, I looked at the Northside of San Francisco in general, from Jan. 1, 2011 to March 6, 2011. For single family homes there was 6.13 months of inventory (an even market). For condos there was 8.5 months of inventory (a soft buyer’s market). 

So yes, this seems like a good time to buy. For years and years, the City was a seller’s market. This is a rare window of opportunity for buyers. And while uncertainty reigns in the news, one thing is certain – San Francisco properties are always in demand. Historically, homes here have retained their value, or appreciated in value, to a much greater extent than homes in virtually any other market in America.

Stephanie Saunders Ahlberg has been a real estate agent for over 30 years and joined Hill & Co. in 1983, where she has consistently been among the Top 10 salespeople. She can be reached at


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