The Confounding Burlingame Market

Is this a late summer swoon or something more?

First, a little background: my job is to keep track of what’s happening in Bay Area real estate. I follow trends, go to open houses, talk to realtors--do whatever I can to make sure I’ll have an answer the next time someone walks up to me and says, “So how’s real estate?”

After five years of intense focus on the industry, I feel pretty confident that, short of an actual realtor, I’m able to give as informed an opinion on local real estate as anyone you might come across on the street.

Right now, the Burlingame real estate market makes no sense. You can imagine my frustration.

A few days ago I was putting together a column about Burlingame’s market (for a different publication). Having begun my research with MLS monthly data, at first I thought my thesis statement would go something like this: “Wow, all of the realtors who’ve been telling me stories about multiple offers and mob scene open houses weren’t lying. The Burlingame market is on fire!”

Sales in early summer were brisk; 55 homes sold in June and July. In the latter month, the average single-family value climbed above $1.3 million--familiar territory, if a bit nostalgic.

And then the August numbers came out. Transactions were down slightly -- 22 homes closed escrow last month -- but that's not shocking, since summer numbers tend to shrink as the days get warmer. Average values, however, soared. For the month, the average home sold for $1.433 million. Burlingame is back, baby.

Or is it? We are now two-thirds of the way through September and I’ve got some numbers for you. These are unofficial, because the “real” MLS data doesn’t come out until a week or so into the new month.

Ten homes closed escrow in the first half of September, putting the month about on par with August activity-wise and in line with September performance dating back to the real estate bubble. Going backwards from 2010, September has produced 22, 16, 22, 12 and 22 sales. Again, think of September numbers as a reflection of what happens in August… when everyone’s on vacation.

Of the 10 homes to sell between September 1 and 15, only two closed escrow for more than $1.5 million. Three more went for between $1 and $1.49 million. The other five – four single-family homes and one condo – sold for less than $1 million. This makes 847 Acacia Ave. September’s median-priced sale. It went for an even $1 million -- not what the residents of Easton Addition want to hear.

But here’s the part that really confounds and concerns me: as of today (September 23), there are 21 active Burlingame listings priced at or above $1.3 million, roughly the city’s median home price. There are only two presently in contract. There are 17 homes priced above $1.5 million; only one is pending. None of the eight $2 million-and-up homes has found a buyer. Has the high end fallen back into stagnancy?

The story on the low end would seem to suggest just that. Homes priced under $1 million have a pending vs. active ratio of almost 1:1. And the overall number of available/in contract homes priced under the city median of $1.3 million (31) is almost a third greater than the number priced above the median (23). It’s like 2010 all over again.

We can explain the mid-September sales figures as normal for the tail end of summer, but what about all of those downward-trending homes for sale? Autumn is historically one of the busiest times of the year for real estate, and word from the realtor trenches is still positive, with tales of high traffic and tech money coming into the market. Lets see if that translates to stouter data during the rest of September, October and November.


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