Santa Clara County was well on its way to a full housing recovery going into 2020. Residential construction was booming and buyer incomes were rising at a much quicker pace than the rest of the state. However, annual home sales volume has remained level-to-down since 2012, decreasing each year since 2018.

The past decade of Santa Clara’s successes has been due to its strong jobs market, particularly in the Silicon Valley area. However, the region’s high cost of living, reflected in steeply rising home prices, is a heavy drag on demand, reducing sales volume and spurring construction.

In 2020, the economic response to the global pandemic alongside the underlying recession have caused job losses to ripple across the state. Looking ahead, Santa Clara County will see sales volume continue down, bottoming around 2022. Slowing sales means home prices will also cool, though today’s low interest rates have thus far counteracted slowing sales to prop up home prices even as sellers remain cautious. The price bump won’t last long. Once the foreclosure moratorium is lifted, scheduled for the end of this year, expect distressed sales on top of the region’s job losses and reduced incomes to drag down prices.

Updated December 2, 2020. Original copy posted August 2014.

Home sales volume heads down

Chart update 12/02/20

2019 2018 2017
Santa Clara County home sales volume 16,300 18,000 19,400

*first tuesday’s projection is based on monthly sales volume trends, as experienced so far this year, and other local economic indicators.

16,300 home sales closed in Santa Clara County during 2019, a 9% decrease from 2018. As of September 2020, home sales volume is a further 7% below the same time last year and at its lowest in recent memory. This continues a downward trend that started in 2018.

Before the decrease of 2018 and 2019, Santa Clara County home sales volume was essentially stagnant since 2012, hovering below 20,000 each year.  The main reason for Santa Clara’s flat-to-down home sales volume? Home prices in the Santa Clara/San Jose area are inflated well beyond income raises, sending end users further afield where they are able to buy more home for the same amount of money. This is not what local real estate agents want.

Personal incomes have risen at a much slower pace than home prices. Personal incomes rose 8% in 2018 in the county. While this is higher than the statewide average, it was still below the year-over-year increase in Santa Clara County home prices that year. After years of rising, home prices are now trailing off.

In 2020, the economic fall-out from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is weighing down the state’s housing market. Expect to see sales volume decline further in 2020 as the region grapples with job losses and and low homebuyer confidence.

Turnover is flat

Chart update 09/08/20

2018 2017 2016
Santa Clara County homeowner turnover rate 6.3% 7.5% 7.9%

Santa Clara County renter turnover rate

23.4% 25.2%

It’s no surprise Santa Clara County’s housing turnover rate is stagnant, given the county’s resulting flat home sales volume. With home prices began to falter in 2018, it’s simply not the prudent time to buy. However, the area’s solid jobs recovery has ensured new residents continue to pour in at a rapid rate, and this added stress is shown in the high renter turnover rate. In 2017, one-in-four renters moved in Santa Clara, decreasing in 2018.

Santa Clara’s quick pace of population growth will help churn Santa Clara County’s turnover rate, first as increased renter turnover followed by a rise in homeowner turnover – once residential construction catches up to the demand. The caution in these forward observations is the tech and information bubble developing in the area and whether it will come to the point of bursting and putting end to further job growth in this 2020 recession.

Homeownership feels the pressure of high prices

Chart update 12/02/20

Q3 2020 Q2 2020 Q3 2019
Santa Clara County homeownership 54.6% 49.3% 53.7%

While varying greatly from quarter to quarter, Santa Clara County’s long-term homeownership rate trended downward from 2005 through 2015, when homeownership bottomed at a very low 45%. Since then, the region’s rate of homeownership has climbed slightly, below 55% in Q3 2020.

The rest of the state has experienced a swift decline in homeownership since the 2008 recession, peaking at over 60% in 2006, at 57% in Q3 2020. Santa Clara’s long-term rate of homeownership is mostly stable, due both to its successful jobs market and high home prices. Elevated prices keep homeowner turnover from rising to unsustainable levels (as occurred across the state during the Millennium Boom). Likewise, Santa Clara County’s strong jobs market bolsters its homeownership rate, which will be tested in the next couple of years as the state continues to slide into recession.

Construction boom trails off

Chart update 12/02/20

2019 2018 2017
Santa Clara County single family residential (SFR) starts 1,900 1,900 2,000

Santa Clara County multi-family starts

4,600 6,500

After years of steady recovery, construction experienced some setbacks in 2019 in Santa Clara County. Single family residential (SFR) starts were flat, while multi-family decreased 29%.

Santa Clara County’s high cost of living makes it more cost-effective to reside in a multi-family dwelling with communal amenities, as opposed to a large suburban SFR. And while multi-family construction improved in 2018 (only to fall back in 2019), it’s still insufficient to keep up with demand from the region’s ever-growing population.

SFR and multi-family starts will likely hit their peak following Generation Y’s delayed entrance into the housing market in 2022-2023. This will be helped along by new legislation intended to combat the growing housing shortage by fostering more construction.

Santa Clara jobs are not shielded from the recession

Chart update 12/02/20

Oct 2020 Oct 2019 Annual change
Santa Clara County jobs 1,085,400 1,176,800 -7.8%

Santa Clara County passed the milestone of its pre-recession employment peak in early 2013. Accounting for a population gain of just over 100,000 individuals in Santa Clara County since the 2008 recession, it finally reached a full jobs recovery for its population in Q1 2015.

In contrast, the state of California only just reached pre-recession employment numbers at the end of 2014 and didn’t reach a post-population-gain recovery until 2019.

Why did Santa Clara’s job market recovered more quickly than the rest of the state, and will it do the same following the current recession? Roughly one-quarter of the jobs added since the recovery from the 2008 recession have been in the Professional-Business Services industry. This includes all of those tech industry jobs. The bulk of other new jobs can be found in industries that support the tech industry.

However, what was gained can be lost. The economic response to COVID-19 has caused record job losses across the state, and the San Jose metro area is no exception. As of October 2020, Santa Clara County has lost 80,700 jobs from its December 2019 peak. Expect to see these job losses impacting real estate in 2020 and the years ahead.

Employment by industry

Chart update 12/02/20

Oct 2020 Oct 2019 Annual change


53,500 48,400

Real Estate Rentals & Leasing

15,100 15,800

The largest employing industry in Santa Clara County is the Goods Producing industry. This has recovered somewhat since the 2008 recession, but has a long way to go.

It’s unlikely to ever return to the peaks experienced in the early 2000s, as the local jobs market has switched focus away from producing goods to producing information, via the region’s thriving tech industry. On the other hand, expect the construction industry to rebound somewhat in the coming years as construction starts rise in response to ever-present demand for local housing.

Income rising quickly

Chart update 03/03/20

2018 2017 Annual change
Santa Clara County per capita income $107,900 $100,200 +7.7%
California per capita income $67,000 $63,900 +4.9%

Santa Clara County personal incomes are well above the statewide average. Further, from 2017 to 2018 incomes increased a significant 7.7% in the region, the largest percent gains in the state.

But these income increases are not all that they seem. The high cost of housing in Santa Clara has pushed out many low- and moderate-income residents. So, while average incomes have increased in the region, the rapid pace of increase is at least partly due to many residents being forced to move to less costly areas.

Despite these relatively large income boosts, incomes actually need to increase much faster to meet the area’s rate of home price rise if home prices and rents are to be maintained. Home prices will need to fall in line with homebuyer incomes, especially since rising mortgage interest rates reduced buyer purchasing power in 2018. Interest rates have since fallen back, but global economic uncertainty and still-high home prices have caused homebuyers to hesitate. Therefore, expect home prices to continue down in 2020 as we head into the next economic recession, forecasted to arrive by the end of 2020, bottoming in 2021.