The Luxury Insider: Hot At The Top

The high end is going strong. Thank you. Nice to see that it is, again, the locomotive pulling the market and driving prices in the right direction. When I make such a statement, I realize that some readers in much of the country must be questioning my sanity.  After all, in most areas, it is not the high end but affordability and a shrinking portion of the distressed sales relative to the entire market which are the key factors of the business momentum we have been observing all year.

So let me define “high end.” The expression, in my vocabulary, does not mean the top 10 or 20% of the price pyramid in any market area. It means only the top luxury tier of ONLY those towns or districts all over the US which are commonly recognized and referred to as “high end markets”. I.O.W., the location defines the high end, not just the price point. To be sure, those upscale locations are not many on the map.

The luxury market has been very slow to come alive this year. Today, it is vibrant. Hopefully nobody in Washington is going to make waves and mess up with this long awaited momentum.

A friend of mine, Jurgen Weller, was reminding me that the low cost of mortgage money has a lot to do with the high end resurgence; at least as much as its beneficial impact in all price segments. True, although at the top end of the market, cash is king. Traditional financing is seldom used. Too bad in a way, since it is always smart to leverage other people’s money rather than dig into our own cash register.

Jurgen’s point is as follows: the cost of financing a million dollar over 30 years has dropped $571,000 since 2008, only four years ago! Enough, as he puts it, to send two kids to Harvard Business School for 4 years and keep some change to feed them when they come home. Of course, by then, the parents would be long gone since I have yet to see a human being who would live in a house long enough to fully amortize the loan!

In any case, sales in the multimillion dollar range are going up, up and up. In the most exclusive areas, the incremental improvement at the top far exceeds the price and unit sales improvement registered over the first 9 months in a lower price range. In fact, the higher you go on the price ladder, the higher the jump relative to the same period of last year.

Take a look at pricey San Mateo County in the hot Silicon Valley:

  • From 1 to 3M, sales are up 12.5% and the average sale price is up 1.8%
  • From 3 to 5M, sales are up 14% and the Avg SP is up 2.8%
  • Over $5M, sales are up…29% and the Avg SP is up…25.6%! And those stats only pertain to what is actually reported through the MLS; it could be even more dramatic since, as we know, easily a third  of the luxury listings escape the MLS and are listed, known, shown and sold by the local market top guns.

I like what I am seeing in the high end. When it’s good at that level, it’s good or getting better underneath.  Please join me in keeping our fingers crossed and insure that the wind will be with us next year and beyond.

By Alain Pinel