Which big city has California’s most-overvalued homes?

Where are California homes the most overvalued — Los Angeles and Orange counties, San Diego or San Francisco?

Well, let’s peek at Wall Street credit watcher Fitch Ratings’ quarterly measurement of housing valuations for metropolitan areas — grades that translate to too high, too low or just right. Fitch’s latest report, based on 2020 third-quarter trends, suggests prices in the pandemic era have grown faster than the economy’s recovery from pandemic limitations.

This metric weighs a region’s home prices vs. underlying business and real estate fundamentals. Or simply, it’s a yardstick to see if homebuying’s gotten a little crazy. Consider how Fitch saw three big California markets it tracks as part of its research following housing values in 20 major metropolitan areas.

San Diego was California’s riskiest by Fitch’s math at 10% to 14% “overvalued.” That came after a year of 9% price gains, the third-highest rate of appreciation among the 20 metros. This marks growing risk as San Diego homes were previously graded as 5% to 9% overvalued for the third quarters of 2019 and 2018.

L.A.-O.C. was next, scoring 5% to 9% too high after a year’s 7.3% price gain — the ninth-highest among 20 metros tracked. That shows increased risk as L.A.-O.C. was graded “sustainable” — Fitch’s “just right” — in the third quarters of 2019 and 2018.

San Francisco had the lowest risk as of the third quarter, graded as “sustainable.” That came after a 5.8% price gain, the fifth smallest among the 20 metros. A year earlier, the Bay Area got the same “sustainable,” an improvement from 5% to 9% overvalued in 2018’s third quarter.

But the pandemic economy’s odd twisting of real estate markets isn’t just a California thing. Fitch saw U.S. homes 5.5% overvalued in the third quarter vs. 2% a year earlier and 2.5% in 2018’s third quarter.

Let’s ponder other risk grades for the third quarter. Remember, house hunters paying record-high prices have to remain employed to make house payments, even those mortgages made with historically low rates.

• Also 5% to 9% overvalued were Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami and Seattle.

• On par with San Diego at 10% to 14% overvalued was Portland and Tampa.

• Even riskier at 15% to 29% overvalued were Phoenix, Dallas and Las Vegas.

But not all metros were graded as too pricey. Joining San Francisco as “sustainable” were Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Minneapolis, New York and Washington, DC. One city was undervalued — graded “too low” — Detroit.

Note that overvaluation doesn’t translate to imminent collapse. The cure, so to speak, could be anything from an extended period of price stagnation to a strong economic pickup.

Or housing markets can ignore certain risks. You know, “it’s different” this time.

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