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Sales of Existing Homes in State Fall During May

June 23, 1989|TOM FURLONG | Times Staff Writer

The pace of existing house sales in California fell sharply in May, the California Assn. of Realtors reported Thursday.

The decline from May, 1988, was particularly sharp along coastal areas in Southern California, ranging from 16.3% in the Ventura area to 22.6% in Orange County, according to the real estate sales trade group, known as CAR. Sales fell 11.6% in Los Angeles and 1.1% in San Diego.

The latest sales figures show that 536,158 existing houses closed escrow in May on an annual basis, which reflects how many houses would be sold in California in 1989 if the pace in May continued all year long. The numbers are also adjusted for seasonal variations.

This year's pace was 9.5% below May, 1988, when 592,494 homes sold on annualized basis. The drop was the first since January, 1988, when annual sales fell 2.3%.

The drop in sales activity was accompanied by a slowing of appreciation in housing prices, which had been rising 2% to 3% in recent months. The median price of an existing single-family house in California rose only 0.6% to $201,930 in May from $200,784 in April.

Real estate experts said the statistics confirm that rising mortgage rates have cooled the California housing market from its torrid pace of 1988 when the market was in a virtual buying frenzy. Though home loan interest rates have dropped in recent weeks, the latest figures reflect house sales that closed escrow in May and were negotiated several weeks earlier when interest rates were still rising.

That rise in rates, coupled with continued price increases, hit sales particularly hard among first-time buyers in metropolitan areas along the coast, according to Leo Saunders, a real estate broker in Walnut Creek, Calif. Saunders is president of CAR, which has about 125,000 members statewide.

"By the same token," Saunders said in a statement, "potential trade-up buyers--those who already own a home but were considering using their equity to move up in the market--were waiting on the sideline to see if rates would continue to rise. As a result, sales of higher-priced homes also declined during May."

At the same time, reflecting price affordability, condominium sales rose sharply in May, climbing at an annual rate of nearly 21%, CAR said. The median sale price of an existing condominium in California is now $139,117, compared to $121,456 in May, 1988.

CAR predicts that about 800,000 homes will be sold in California this year, including 540,000 existing houses, 150,000 new houses and more than 100,000 new and existing condominiums.

Though housing economists are hopeful that recent drops in mortgage rates will boost sale activity, few are predicting a return to 1988's torrid levels. The market is being held back by consumer uncertainty about the economy and high prices that are continuing to drive first-time buyers from the market, said Joel Singer, CAR's chief economist.

Some of the median house prices in California today, compared to May, 1988, are:

- Los Angeles, $217,708, up 25.9%.

- Orange County, $247,397, up 24.3%.

- San Diego, $175,585, up 23.4%.

- Ventura, $243,455, up 24.5%.

- Riverside/San Bernardino, $122,983, up 18.2%.

- San Francisco Bay Area, $267,634, up 36%.

THE REAL ESTATE SLOWDOWN Figures are based on closed escrow sales of single-family, detached homes (no condos except where indicated). Movements in sales prices should not be interpreted as measuring changes in the cost of a standard home; prices are influenced by changes in cost and changes in the characteristics and size of homes actually sold. N/A = Not available.

% change in May prices Median from from Region Price Apr., '89 May, '88 Calif. (single family) $201,930 0.6 23.4 Calif. (condo) 139,117 1.9 14.5 Central Valley 96,553 4.4 12.6 High Desert* 92,500 4.0 13.3 Los Angeles 217,708 0.9 25.9 Monterey 226,886 -5.3 27.2 N. California 79,038 0.5 7.5 Wine Country 150,333 N/A 16.8 Orange County 247,397 1.6 24.3 Palm Springs/ Lower Desert* 113,103 -9.9 6.9 Riverside/ San Bernardino 122,983 3.2 18.2 Sacramento 106,270 3.1 12.7 San Diego 175,585 -0.3 23.4 San Francisco Bay 267,634 2.3 36.0 Santa Barbara* 229,999 7.3 10.7 Ventura 243,455 -2.6 24.5

% change in May sales activity from from Region Apr., '89 May, '88 Calif. (single family) -2.2 -9.5 Calif. (condo) 16.4 20.6 Central Valley 23.4 8.8 High Desert* 8.1 14.3 Los Angeles 4.6 -11.6 Monterey -4.6 -9.7 N. California 17.4 10.7 Wine Country N/A -44.6 Orange County 1.0 -22.6 Palm Springs/ Lower Desert* 26.4 16.4 Riverside/ San Bernardino 16.0 -7.9 Sacramento 33.0 6.6 San Diego 20.8 -1.1 San Francisco Bay 5.0 -2.1 Santa Barbara* -12.6 -13.0 Ventura 3.0 -16.3

* Due to the small size of the sample, price and activity changes may be overemphasized.

Source: California Assn. of Realtors

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