What 5 recent Bay Area home sales say about the COVID housing market

Judith Zeng

Bidding wars over unremarkable homes in once-overlooked areas. The sting of defeat after losing out to an all-cash offer. Anxiety about what’s lurking behind the walls in houses purchased by waiving inspection and appraisal safeguards.

For many Bay Area residents, buying a home got harder than ever during the pandemic.

National home prices have surged past a median $400,000 for the first time — and that’s still less than a third of the going $1.5 million sale price in San Francisco. For many parts of the region, it takes an average annual household income of more than $235,000 to even qualify for a loan.

In Silicon Valley suburbs like Cupertino, Los Altos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, architect-turned-listing-agent Anson Ip has been fielding a barrage of offers for homes on spacious lots. But in a hot market, that’s sometimes meant seeing young families get shut out, or new transplants end up stuck in what was supposed to be a short-term Airbnb rental.

That is, unless they’re willing and able to pay much higher premiums.

“This year, people started to accept the overbidding,” said Ip, who specializes in $2.5 million to $5.5 million houses with real estate firm Compass. “I just sold one last night that was more than $900,000 over.”

Still, housing is hyper-local, and odds of success depend on where you search. The Chronicle analyzed recent sales data — from the backyards of some of the world’s biggest tech companies to Wine Country communities rebuilt after devastating fires — for a closer look at how the buying boom is unfolding across the Bay Area.

This fixer-upper in Fremont, which is now one of the Bay Area’s most competitive housing markets, sold for more than $300,000 over its asking price.

This fixer-upper in Fremont, which is now one of the Bay Area’s most competitive housing markets, sold for more than $300,000 over its asking price.

Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle

The Tesla effect: 43331 Sweetwood St., Fremont

On a quiet side street in Fremont sits a 1,056-square-foot house with warped hardwood floors, a pastel pink bathroom and a kitchen full of vintage appliances. An online real estate listing calls it a “rancher needing TLC.”

It sold in late March for $1.3 million, well over its $999,000 asking price.

The three-bedroom with a backyard shows how high the bar to entry has gotten for serious fixer-uppers. In this case, there’s at least one potential pool of buyers nearby: The house is less than 5 miles from Tesla’s sprawling Fremont factory, which employs thousands of manufacturing workers and engineers.

Across the city, long one of the Bay Area’s most diverse, real estate listing site Redfin reports that prices rose 20% during the past year, to a median $1.4 million. North Fremont is one of the most competitive markets in the region, Redfin found in a recent report. Scarce homes last a median nine days on the market.

This three-bedroom, one-bathroom Cupertino home recently sold for nearly $800,000 over the asking price.

This three-bedroom, one-bathroom Cupertino home recently sold for nearly $800,000 over the asking price.

Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle

Silicon Valley’s prime suburbs: 10279 S. Tantau Ave., Cupertino

A half hour south in Apple’s hometown of Cupertino, prices are even higher. As of March, the median sale price was about $2.6 million, according to the National Association of Realtors — approaching the pandemic-high of $2.7 million last fall.

But as the spring home-buying season arrives, some houses are commanding much higher prices. Take a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house on a large lot across the street from a high school and between two Apple campuses. Ip sold it in April for $3.05 million — nearly $800,000 over an asking price of just under $2.3 million — after fielding 13 offers.

The price difference reflects not just location, but also lot size. The house sold a year ago for $2.1 million and is big enough to either tear down and build a bigger home or add a secondary unit.

A luxury townhome in Hunters Point recently sold for nearly $1.2 million.

A luxury townhome in Hunters Point recently sold for nearly $1.2 million.

Justin Katigbak/Special to The Chronicle

The modern city starter home: 35 Kirkwood Ave., San Francisco

Where can you actually get a new place in San Francisco for under the asking price? One of America’s former hubs for radiological research: the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, which is in the midst of a massive, decades-long redevelopment effort.

A luxury three-story, three-bedroom town house with a private rooftop terrace and views of the bay sold for just below its $1.2 million listing price in Hunters Point in late March. Upgrades like designer appliances and quartz countertops often come at a steeper price, but the sale followed years of backlash from longtime residents about lingering health concerns, which have long been denied by the city and environmental regulators.

It’s an example of the compromises that buyers shut out of multimillion-dollar price ranges are considering around the Bay Area, in this case just after a $6.3 million settlement was finalized with other local homeowners over how the shipyard cleanup controversy may have impacted property values.

This ranch-style home in Tracy sold for $350,000 in January, then for $555,000 in late March.

This ranch-style home in Tracy sold for $350,000 in January, then for $555,000 in late March.

Google Street View

The price of affordability: 1721 Deborah St., Tracy

With once-affordable inner Bay Area suburbs like Hayward routinely commanding home prices over $1 million, more would-be buyers are looking over the Altamont Pass.

Take a 956-square-foot Tracy ranch home that sold in January for $350,000, then was resold for $555,000 in late March. “What a great property for first time buyers and investors,” the listing began, boasting upgrades like central air and new floors.

Quick-flip investor home buying in the Bay Area is currently below historic levels, according to a recent analysis of Redfin data by The Chronicle. But it’s increasing in lower-cost outlying areas like Bethel Island, Hollister, Pacifica and many communities in the Central Valley, making it harder for longtime residents and budget-conscious transplants to compete.

This Santa Rosa lot, which sat empty after the 2017 Tubbs Fire, sold for $260,000 in December 2020 and now has a home that sold for $990,000 in March.

This Santa Rosa lot, which sat empty after the 2017 Tubbs Fire, sold for $260,000 in December 2020 and now has a home that sold for $990,000 in March.

Google Street View

Rebuilding in Wine Country: 3638 Hemlock Court, Santa Rosa

In the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2017, the Tubbs Fire barreled into Santa Rosa and leveled the neighborhood around Coffey Park.

Five years later, many burned-out properties are re-emerging from a long process of insurance claims, debris removal and construction. Similar to other fire zones in Paradise and the Santa Cruz Mountains, rebuilt homes in areas still vulnerable to the elements are once again attracting buyers willing to pay high prices.

In March, this new four-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac sold for $990,000, just above the $989,000 asking price. The empty lot where the house before it once stood sold for $260,000 in December 2020.

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