Like much of the state, San Diego County never fully recovered from the 2008 recession and financial crisis before the recession, financial crash and pandemic slammed the region in 2020.

The economic response to COVID-19 and the underlying recession caused record job losses in 2020, which have nearly been recovered as of Q2 2022. Record-low interest rates maximized buyer purchasing power and prices in 2020-2021, with homebuyer fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) on a dwindling MLS inventory also fueling San Diego’s rapid home price increases. However, interest rates have reversed course in 2022, slashing buyer purchasing power.

Today’s bubble market has reached a peak, now feeling downward pressure from rising interest rates and slowing sales volume. The short-term government efforts to prop up the economy are now fully behind us, and have merely put off the inevitable decline. Today’s interest rate increases are the opening act to the as-yet undeclared economic recession. San Diego’s housing market will likely begin a consistent recovery from the 2022-2023 recession around 2026-2027. 

View the charts below for current activity and forecasts for the San Diego housing market.

Updated August 25, 2022. Original copy posted March 2013.

Home sales volume slows

Chart update 08/25/22

2022 2020 2019 2003: Peak Year
San Diego County home sales volume 47,600 42,300 40,100 60,800

Home sales volume in San Diego County steadily increased in 2020-2021, with 47,600 sales closing escrow in 2021. This was a 13% increase over 2020. For perspective, this 13% increase still leaves San Diego nearly 50% below peak 2003 sales numbers. San Diego’s increase to sales volume in 2021 was also below the statewide average, which saw sales increase a whopping 22% over the prior year. As of Q2 2022, home sales volume is 17% below the prior year, indicating home sales volume is now sliding back to 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

The sales volume bump experienced in 2020-2021 follows a decade of stagnant sales in the region, and across the state. However, the rising trend of the past two years was temporary.

Don’t expect San Diego’s home sales volume bounce to continue in 2022. Rising interest rates are swiftly removing buyers from the market. Further, the job losses stemming from the recession and pandemic have pulled many would-be homebuyers and sellers from the market. Those jobless homeowners with mortgages have found themselves delinquent, though thus far have remained in their homes due to first the now-expired foreclosure moratorium, then forbearance plans. But as these forbearance programs gradually expire, these homeowners will find themselves heading toward a forced sale, saved from foreclosure due to the high levels of home equity achieved in 2021.

Expect sales volume and prices to bottom following the next recession, anticipated to arrive in the second half of 2023, when homebuyers will return in greater numbers to push the housing market to its next stable recovery, expected to begin around 2025.

Related article:

The Fed bumps up rates again — the undeclared recession is here

Inventory rises from historic lows

Chart update 08/25/22

Jul 2022 Jul 2021 Annual change
San Diego County for-sale inventory 7,000 6,900 +2%

Multiple listing service (MLS) inventory has risen from the historic low reached at the end of 2021. After two years of steep decline, for-sale inventory in San Diego averaged a slight 2% above a year earlier as of July 2022 — and climbing. The winter months typically see the lowest inventory of homes for sale, peaking around mid-year.

Looking forward, expect inventory to continue to climb in 2023-2024. The significant interest rate increases of 2022 have slashed buyer purchasing power, making it nigh on impossible for mortgaged homebuyers to compete. Along with high inflation, the signs are pointing to a rapidly approaching downturn in the housing market — of which homebuyers and sellers are well aware. Today’s seller’s market has fully tipped, with prices to follow heading into 2023 as inventory grows and homebuyers increasingly take a wait-and-see approach to buying.

Turnover rates are up: good for sales

Chart update 09/08/20

2018 2017 2016
San Diego County homeowner turnover rate 7.6% 9.4% 9.0%

San Diego County renter turnover rate

22.5% 23.6%
21.5%

The percentage of San Diego County homeowners and renters who moved in 2018 fell back from the previous year. This trend echoes other regions of the state, which saw turnover decline in 2018 following a brief burst in 2017. Turnover rates for both owners and renters still remain well below pre-recession levels.

Lower turnover rates are indicative of cash-strapped households that simply cannot afford to move, whether they are homeowners or renters. When turnover is low, home sales volume is hindered.

While the trends are similar to the rest of the state, the magnitude of decline in turnover rate in San Diego County has not suffered as much compared to the rest of Southern California. This is partly due to a better jobs outlook and San Diego’s large military population, which traditionally experiences high turnover. Agents can gain an “in” with this population by familiarizing themselves with the various benefits available to military renters and homeowners such as Veteran’s Administration (VA)-guaranteed and CalVet mortgages, then advertising themselves as experts.

Related articles:

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Homeownership plummets

Chart update 08/25/22

Q2 2022
Q1 2022 Q2 2021
San Diego County homeownership 53.0% 48.4% 51.6%

San Diego County’s homeownership rate followed the general statewide and national trend of decline in the years following the Millennium Boom, most recently bottoming in 2016 at 50.7%. In contrast, homeownership peaked at 63% in 2006 in San Diego County.

However, the homeownership rate recently increased from a new low, at 53.0% in Q2 2022. Rising prices and stiff competition have forced out many would-be first-time homebuyers who otherwise add to the homeownership rate, giving cash-heavy investors the upper hand.

In contrast, the homeownership rate in San Diego County has historically been comparable to the rest of the state, at 54.6% in Q2 2022. When home prices adjust downward later in 2022 due to rising interest rates alongside the expected uptick in inventory, prices will fall. This action will make some room for more new homeowners beginning in 2023-2024, which will see the homeownership rate return to healthy levels. The homeownership rate won’t rise significantly until homebuyers regain full confidence in the housing market, returning in larger numbers in the years following 2024.

Home prices at their peak

Chart update 08/25/22

Low-tier annual change Mid-tier annual change High-tier annual change
San Diego County home pricing index: May 2022 +20% +24% +30%

The price of housing in San Diego County has skyrocketed in the past year, particularly in the high tier. Home prices here have increased at a faster pace than any other major California metro.

Lower mortgage rates — as occurred in 2020-2021 — free up more of a buyer’s monthly mortgage payment to put towards a bigger principal. Thus, San Diego’s high home prices found fuel from the historically low interest rates of 2020-2021, translating to increased buyer purchasing power. However, this boost is behind us, as interest rates have begun their upward march in 2022, turning purchasing power negative and urging homebuyer caution.

In 2022, home prices will also begin to feel the impact of months of built-up delinquent inventory, headed for forced sales following the buildup of forbearance exits. The overall home price trend for the next couple of years will be down, the result of higher interest rates, ongoing job losses and lower sales volume. As during the 2008 recession, the drop in sales volume and prices will first be most volatile on the coast, before rippling outward to inland areas.

Multi-family construction leads the way

Chart update 08/25/22

2021 2020 2019
San Diego County single family residential (SFR) starts 3,200 3,700 3,000

San Diego County multi-family starts

6,500 7,000
5,000

Residential construction starts fell back in 2021, declining 14% for single family residential (SFR) starts and 7% for multi-family starts. Until 2018, the recovery had been concentrated in multi-family starts, due to the increased demand for rental housing experienced during this recovery. Fueling this increased rental demand are:

  • a demand shift from suburban living to city dwelling by the youngest generation of homebuyers, Generation Y (Gen Y);
  • an increased resistance to homeownership following the housing crash; and
  • the higher barriers to homeownership due to the return of mortgage lending fundamentals which tightened mortgage lending.

Today, the general trend for SFR construction starts in San Diego County is still far below 2002-2004 numbers. The next peak in SFR construction starts will likely begin around 2023.  Even then, SFR construction starts are highly unlikely to return to the frenzied mortgage-driven numbers seen during the Millennium Boom.

Historic job losses erase years of gains

Chart update 08/25/22

Jun 2022 Jun 2021 annual change
San Diego County employment 1,517,500 1,407,300 +7.8%

Before end users can provide sufficient support for the housing recovery, they will need to acquire income in the form of jobs and wage increases. San Diego continues to outpace the state’s jobs recovery, which is good news for San Diego’s housing industry.

Unlike other parts of the state with less stable employment markets, San Diego surpassed the level of jobs held prior to the 2008 recession well before the 2020 recession set in. However, due to 2020’s significant job losses and their slow recovery, jobs are now just 7,700 below the pre-2020 recession peak as of June 2022. However, a second recession is expected to slow and detract jobs in 2023, not to enter a true recovery until around 2024-2025.

Industry employment rises slowly

Chart update 08/25/22

Jun 2022 Jun 2021 annual change
Real estate
30,600
28,600
+7.0%

Construction

85,500 84,500
+0.1%

In the housing industry, construction jobs have gradually regained numbers over the past decade of recovery from the 2008 recession, nearing a full recovery. Likewise, the number of employed real estate professionals has remained low throughout the past recovery, rising slowly.

In 2020, both industries experienced a hit to job numbers, though both have bounced back fairly quickly compared to other industries. The real estate profession will not likely experience a sustained increase until the next confluence of buyers and renters (members of the Generation Y, Z and Baby Boomer generations) converge on the market in the years following 2024.

Per capita income has recovered

Chart update 05/10/22

2020 2019 Annual change
San Diego County per capita income $66,300 $60,500 +8.9%
California per capita income $70,700 $65,300 +8.3%

The average per capita income in San Diego County is $66,300 as of 2020, the most recently reported Census year. This is a significant increase in income of 8.9% over the previous year. Income took a hit in San Diego during the 2008 recession, and it took three years for income to finally catch up to 2008 levels. In contrast, income has actually accelerated at a faster-than-normal pace following the 2020 recession.

After factoring in an additional 10%-11% increase in income needed just to cover eight years of interim inflation, homebuyers in 2018 had only slightly higher purchasing power to buy a home or rent as they did in 2008 – all else remaining unchanged. Per capita income in San Diego County is slightly lower than the state average, and exceeds levels in the inland valleys by roughly 50%.

As long as the pace of incomes fall behind the cost of housing, home prices and the price of rents are limited. This is due to the reality that buyer occupants ultimately determine selling prices in this economic environment  — buyers can only pay as much for a home as their savings and income qualify them to pay — nothing more, unless lenders and landlords want to take on more risky, less qualified individuals. The same fundamental truth is also applicable to tenants’ capacity to pay, which ultimately works to set the ceiling on rental amounts.

This rule has been somewhat altered in 2020-2021 due to the interference of cash-heavy investors in the housing market.

Expect per capita income to rise with increases in job numbers. When considering the jobs needed to cover population growth of one percent per annum in the years since 2007, employment numbers and income won’t drive demand for significant additional new housing until after the recovery from the next recession.