Of Melting Pots and Zeitgeists

Unknown-4Summer is winding down. As usual, I’m waxing a little philosophical on the cusp of another fall season. Maybe it’s a good time to sit back and catch up on the current state of the real estate market. And consider where our own lives are in relation to the market-at-large that’s always at work out there, whether we happen to be paying attention or not.

Most of what the average person thinks he/she knows about the real estate market originates in two places: 1) The daily headlines they see and hear in newspapers and other television/media outlets they tune into, and 2) Impromptu stop-and-chats they have with friends and neighbors in innocuous public places like Shoppers Corner, Soccer Games and the DMV.

When it comes to real estate, everyone has an opinion and everyone has a story to tell. Whether that story is based on a recent experience, some long-held belief or some vicarious third-hand account they feel compelled to toss back into the melting pot of the collective zeitgeist.

But here’s the thing – neither of our primary news feeds has a whole lot to offer when it comes to actually weighing the complicated choices and making the important life-decisions that come with buying or selling a home. Those headlines are way too big to scale down and draw vital personal conclusions from. And the small anthology of apocryphal stories that gets donated by friends is way too limited in size and vague in details to risk the future on.

Just a quick reminder: There is no national real estate market. In the same way that there isn’t any national weather forecast. There’s only local real estate and local weather. Every community has its own micro-climate for both. A unique set of conditions that creates high/low pressure zones and influences prevailing winds. There are even hyper-local markets that change quickly and radically in the space of a few blocks – like those sunny blue skies that often turn into a thick blanket of fog right around the Park Ave. Exit on Hwy 1.

The real, real estate market is made up of thousands of people making thousands of decisions influenced by thousands of thousands of other factors, large and small, on a daily basis. The bigger the sample of all those decisions all those different people are making that you have access to, the more accurate your educated guesses about future buying/selling are likely to be.

As we head into the fall, the most important thing that buyers/sellers should know about the real estate market is this: Despite all the difficult lows and amazing highs our market has experienced over the last 8 years, from the dark days of the meltdown to the Silicon-fueled rush and multiple-offer crush of recent years, remarkably, incredibly, after all of it, median and average prices in Santa Cruz County are still not back to where they were when the market peaked in 2007. Close, but no banana.

What a long, strange trip it’s been, going all that way only to end up almost back in the same place. Or is it the same place? Let’s talk more about that next week.

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