What Bubble?

By Alain Pinel
General Manager of Intero Prestigio international
Intero Real Estate Services, Inc.

Are we spoiled, or are we bored, or are we blind? Is the Silicon Valley the eternal land of plenty or just a Fools’ Paradise?

I don’t know about you but I feel like I caught a virus that makes me a bit gloomy these days. No matter what business paper I read, I feel like being brainwashed about new impending dotcom slide. The word “bubble” is coming back in fashion. Every decent brain has a theory on the matter and they are ruining my days preaching tougher times in the tech industry and whatever business (like real estate) that benefits from it.

What are we talking about? The hi-tech euphoria which caused some IPO’s to reach stratospheric levels over the last two years, is dissipating. Valuations are being challenged, especially in the social media arena and biotech. Balance sheets do not support stocks performance. By the time employees of most new tech IPO’s can sell their shares, the median value shrinks substantially. The tech-heavy Nasdaq is down so far this year. Warning signs?

Anything can happen. I have not forgotten the tech boom of the 90’s in the Silicon Valley and the brutal wake-up call that followed in late 2000 & 2001. But what I see from my window, today, is that too many people believe way too much in Murphy’s Law. It is a good conversation topic around a dining table to predict a slowdown, just like we predict the next big quake can happen anytime, but the fact is that today’s “bubble” has no similarity to that of 2001.

Back in those days, the giants of the industry were still young and financially unsecure. Their market was, for the most part, limited to the country boundaries. IPO’s were mushrooming right & left, fueled by plenty of VC money looking for a quick return.

Today, the giants of the tech sector are loaded with cash. They are doing as well if not better overseas. They are grabbing new innovative tech companies at record prices without feeling any pain. Investors are in for the long term. VC people are hot about growth revenues prospects and are investing billions in the Valley, particularly in San Francisco, which appears to be the new destination. The returns sure beat other investment opportunities in this anemic economy.

Of course those same people complaining about overvalued tech stocks about to fizzle, are announcing the same prospect for the local real estate activity which depends so much on the tech sector in the Silicon Valley. The market, however, is behaving just fine. The only negative is that the so-called Spring market has not, so far, brought the thousands of new listings that we expected and we so badly need to satisfy a steady demand.

Most of the uncertainty regarding the regional residential market is not related to a tech slowdown; it is just a new normal here and everywhere else in the US given a sluggish economic recovery. NAR, the National Association of Realtors, was remarking a couple of weeks ago on the fact that the current sales activity in underperforming by historical standards. “In contrast, price growth is rising faster than historical norms because on inventory shortages.”

Last year, the Silicon Valley has fared quite well compared to most other areas. In the “money-towns” of the Mid-Peninsula, such as Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills & Palo Alto, the dollar volume of sales exploded year over year, up to 28% in Woodside and 22% in Palo Alto. Unit sales also jumped to new highs, except in Menlo Park, Los Altos & Palo Alto where the inventory of active listings was particularly low.

When you compute the price appreciation over a 5 year period, homeowners did pretty well: Atherton jumped 28%, Woodside 29%, Portola Valley 38%, same for Menlo Park and Los Altos, Los Altos Hills 15%, and Palo Alto…57%! Is that enough to talk about a bubble? Not in my book since it is mostly a function of the dichotomy between supply & demand. Yes, 2014, so far, has been a bit weak, but you give me a lot more listings and I’ll give you a lot more sales without inflationary prices. The Silicon Valley is OK. Keep the faith. Thank you.



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