Who do you believe will most influence the price negotiated on property sales in 2024?

  • The buyer will likely control the price agreed to next year (63%, 15 Votes)
  • The seller will likely control the price a buyer pays next year (38%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 24

California home sales volume fell back in June 2023. This follows a weak seasonal bump which struggled to build momentum during the (usually) busy spring buying season.

Just 26,000 new and resale home transactions closed escrow in California during June 2023, down slightly from the prior month and down 20% from a year earlier — a blow to all services involved in real estate sales.

Continuing the declining trend, year-to-date (YTD) sales volume is a fee-crushing 31% below 2022 as of June 2023.

However, critically, the classic year-over-year comparisons lack usefulness today due to the uncharacteristically steep annual sales volume rise that occurred early in 2021 — a distortion fed by:

  • homebuyers taking advantage of historically low interest rates,
  • homebuyer fear of missing out (FOMO) due to very low inventory, and
  • the financial boost from stimulus cash given to most individuals and businesses.

Instead, compare today’s sales volume to the last pre-pandemic year: 2019.

Compared to 2019 — the last “normal” year for housing before the Pandemic Economy took control — home sales volume in 2022 was 12% lower. As of June 2023, sales volume year-to-date (YTD) is a weightier 31% below 2019 — and falling.

The Pandemic bridge; an on-ramp to recession

Since 2019, home sales volume has been on a roller coaster of distorted ups and downs.

Behind the volatility was the shutdown of commerce with the onset of the 2020 pandemic followed by government action to buoy the housing market with record-low interest rates, an eviction and foreclosure moratorium and extra cash deposited directly into the pockets of renters and homebuyers.

All this federal and state action artificially drove up enthusiasm — prices — not just for real estate, but for assets of all types. Everyone was suddenly wealthier, for the moment. Tenants and buyers gave it up; landlords and seller took it in.

As a result, consumer inflation — rent — and asset inflation — property prices — skyrocketed and personal savings plummeted to a decade’s low, leaving households unprepared for the coming financial misfortune.

We are now reaping the consequences. Even as the government’s stimulus measures were coming to an end in 2022, the economy was on the return path towards recession, which has now fully returned to work its worst magic on California’s housing market in 2023 and likely well into early 2026. Fallout from negative equity will continue for years into the recovery.

Home sales in 2023 and beyond

Home sales will continue to fall back for the remainder of 2023 due to:

  • today’s higher mortgage interest rates, which have slashed buyer purchasing power (BPPI) by reducing the capital buyers can borrow to fund the maximum purchase price they are able to pay for property, down 13% from a year earlier and down 24% from 2019 as of May 2023;
  • lower homeowner and tenant turnover as buyers face the dual dilemma of mortgage rates which limit the amounts borrowed as purchase-assist capital, and sellers’ sticky asking prices as above buyer capacity, while inventory increases to met away any FOMO; and
  • the broader economic recession, anticipated to bring job losses by the end of 2023.

Even as California reached a full jobs recovery from the 2020 pandemic recession at the end of 2022, another more significant economic recession is shaping up to tighten its grip on the jobs and housing markets. Watch for job losses to occur in the second half of 2023, piling on heading into 2024.

The result: home sales volume and prices won’t begin a recovery from the California downturn until the years following 2025, more likely 2026. By then, our economy will be heading into its next sustainable expansion.

Related article:

Mortgage payments jump — and misguided buyers feel driven to overpay

In the meantime, home sales volume will continue its decline in 2023. 2024’s sales volume drop will depend on how steeply prices drop in 2023; if it’s fast down for prices, then expect an early bottom for sale volume by mid 2025, but not a fast recovery for home prices.

Without the support of a steady rush of home sales since early 2022, home prices have plummeted, causing recently mortgaged homebuyers — including those who purchases with minimal down payments from 2019 through 2023 — to slip underwater at increasing frequency.

Unable to complete a traditional sale, more of these homes will head toward foreclosure. Initially, many will become real estate owned (REO) properties held by servicing agents of the remote mortgage holders. The REO issue will resolve itself by the appearance of short sales dependent on the negative equity homeowner locating a buyer, not the REO servicer. Thus, they will be sold in non-conventional sales platforms, and likely to pile up in excess due primarily to job loss.

Expect a return of real estate speculators in 2025 to provide a “dead cat” bounce to bring an end to the ongoing sales slump.  A sustainable recovery will take off with the return of end user homebuyers around 2026-2027. That will produce a flipper’s paradise unless we have a long-encouraged, now state enforced coastal surge in residential construction of all types.

Read more RPI analysis, see California home sales volume charts.