Those buyers who don’t mind a fixer can open up additional possibilities (ignore the part about people not selling and remodeling instead!):
Justin and Michelle Wilson didn’t have much of a choice when they turned a $1.58 million ugly duckling into a $3 million swan.
There were very few options in Mountain View, Calif., within their $2 million budget, and each house they liked got snapped up in a bidding war. So they settled for a dated $1.58 million beige-and-brown Tudor-style house and gave it a $600,000 makeover that took seven months. Now, the contemporary home’s facade features stucco, stone and steel as well as a striking portico.
“It makes us happy to drive up and come home,” said Mr. Wilson, a 34-year-old financial executive.
While the dynamic is playing out in a number of U.S. cities, California’s plight is particularly intense because of Proposition 13, a 1978 amendment to the state constitution. It set property taxes based on 1975 assessments and capped future property-tax increases at 2% a year.
The catch: When a home in California is sold, the property is reassessed based on its current sale price, resulting in a large tax increase for the new buyer. To avoid this tax hit, many homeowners simply stay put rather than move, which further suppresses the inventory of home listings and keeps prices high.
“Prop. 13 has a strong tendency to keep people in homes longer than they otherwise would be,” said Paul Habibi, a professor of real estate at the Ziman Center for Real Estate the University of California, Los Angeles. “If the market is rising faster than the assessed values, you have all the economic incentive to stay in place,” Mr. Habibi said.
A study released in 2005 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Cambridge, Mass.-based think tank, found that in California, on average, homeowners stay put for 1.4 years longer than in other states due to Proposition 13. In coastal cities, the “lock-in effect,” as the study called it, is even higher. Homeowners in Los Angeles stay put over two years longer, and San Francisco homeowners keep their homes over three years longer than homeowners in other states.