Median Price Bouncing Back

By Dave Fratello | September 22nd, 2010
If you know MBC, you know we're not big fans of median-price data.

We've called medians one of the worst measures of the market, except for the alternatives.

The attraction of median prices is that they typically come out of a large dataset. Also, you don't engage in averaging of prices, which in a town like MB would be incredibly misleading. The median's the midpoint of all sale prices: half the homes sold for more, half sold for less. (You can forgive some people for seeing this as arbitrary.)

People rely on the median nonetheless. The problem is that its movement is just a big trend note. You'll see individual sales and resales bounce all around the median line, with no rhyme or reason. Depending on what you're looking for, you probably won't find it in median-price data.

That wordy caveat is just to say beware what, if any, conclusions you may draw from the following data.

This is our first look at MB median price trends in a while. Previously we've relied on Dataquick data, but using a feed of MLS sales data allows us to come up-to-the-minute.

As the chart here shows – looking at SFRs citywide, not just west of Hwy. 1 – the median price locally took its biggest hit in 2009, dropping from nearly $1.8m in 2006-07 to a 5-year low of $1.459m.

That's a drop of 18% from 2006, one of the recent peak years.

But just as suddenly, the median has bounced back in 2010.

With 230 sales year-to-date (thru Sept. 22), we've got nearly as many closed sales to look at in 2010 as there were in the full years of 2008 (242) and 2009 (265).

This year the citywide median price, at $1.599m, is up 10% from 2009, down just 10% from 2006.

Let's be honest, if word gets out that MB prices are now down just about 10% from a peak year, people are going to say we've not just weathered the storm, but levitated our way out of it. (Putting aside, for the moment, the question of whether a "double-dip" awaits us.)

Certainly, you see something in the data here that's consistent with the feeling on the ground. We had our nice rally earlier this year, lots of one-time failed sellers came back in 2010 and made their deals, the high end returned – these are just a few realities that you can see in a 10% boost in the median this year.

But does that really mean we're only down 10% from a bubblicious peak? There are several ways to get at that question, and we will over the coming weeks.

There's an inflection point somewhere in the past 6-12 months that's worth examining – a couple soothsayers said during Q3 2009 that it was happening then, that the bottom was in and prices were firming, and that may prove out. We'll get deeper into these data.

One more caveat as we wrap this installment. The data source and the resulting figures here are all different from those found in some of our bigger reviews of MB median prices.

For instance, we looked at 2000-2008 in "Charting MB's Bubble," using monthly medians and smoothed-out averages of those medians from a Dataquick dataset. In that story, we found a price peak in January 2008 at $1.646m, somewhat lower than the 2007 and 2008 full-year medians above, which were drawn from MLS data.

We'll look into these issues and do some west-of-Sepulveda charts as well. Let us know what you'd like to see; we'll try to make it a part of the upcoming stream.

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