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New Feature Lets You Track Home Prices in Your Community

September 10, 1989

In today's issue, The Times Real Estate Section introduces a new weekly feature--Southland Home Prices--a map and accompanying table that will show home-sale activity and price movements in seven Southland counties.

The home price guide, which will focus on a different Southland county or region each week over a five-week cycle, will present home-sale activity and prices for each ZIP code in the county as well as for broader regional zones.

The data will reflect virtually all sales of new and existing single-family houses, condominiums and townhouses in the county for the most recent reporting month, and will be compared to the same month a year earlier.

This week's home price guide, based on July sales activity in Los Angeles County, consists of a map and zone table on Page 10 and a ZIP code table on Page 11. The map and zone and ZIP code listings will be combined for the other counties in succeeding weeks because those counties contain fewer ZIP codes.

The weekly map will be divided into several zones. Each zone will include the average sales price of a home in the area, the percentage change from a year earlier, the number of homes sold during the reporting month and the percentage change in sales activity from a year earlier.

The ZIP code table presents the same information, but sorts it by mailing areas so that readers can gauge activity and price movements in their community.

A guide to Orange County activity will appear Sept. 17; San Diego, Sept. 24; Riverside/San Bernardino, Oct. 1 and Ventura/Santa Barbara, Oct. 8. The cycle will begin again Oct. 15, when updated sales and price data for Los Angeles County will be presented.

Here's how to use the Southland Home Price guide, using Zone 1 of this week's map as an example:

Zone 1 of Los Angeles County covers Agoura, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village. The accompanying table shows that Zone 1 represents two ZIP codes--91301 and 91302.

ZONE 1 Agoura, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Westlake Village Average Price...$305,593 (10.9) Units sold......160 (15.9)

The first map entry in bold-face type shows that the adjusted average price of all homes--new and existing single-family houses, condominiums and townhouses--sold in the area during July was $305,593. The figure in the parentheses indicates that the average price is up 10.9% from July, 1988.

The second bold-face entry shows that there were 160 homes sold in the zone during July, while the figure following it in parentheses indicates that the July sales level was 15.9% higher than a year earlier.

The weekly listing of home prices and sales activity by zone and ZIP codes is designed to serve two primary purposes, said Dick Barnes, real estate editor of The Times.

"The first is to give readers an approximate idea of the health of the real estate market in their community and in surrounding areas," Barnes said.

Consulted Realty Sources

The second goal "is to give readers who are thinking about moving, more information about home prices in other parts of the Southland," he said.

To create the zones, Times research librarian Doug Conner called dozens of Boards of Realtors and individual brokers across Southern California for guidance in grouping cities according to commonality of interests and housing price range. Conner was aided by Times editors and writers in several bureaus.

The statistical information that appears for each zone and ZIP code is provided to The Times by Colton-based TRW Real Estate Information Services.

TRW calculates its price and sales figures by examining microfiche copies of every grant deed filed at each county recorder's office during the reporting month. Dozens of TRW researchers and data-entry clerks glean a variety of information from the deeds and then enter the data into computers.

Transactions that involve unusually low sale prices are omitted because TRW assumes they are vacant lots, time-shares or some other inapplicable transaction. Sales above a certain limit are also removed to weed out sales of commercial properties, such as office buildings and mini-malls.

Most Comprehensive

TRW then takes these adjusted figures and uses them to calculate the number of units, or homes, sold in each zone and also to calculate the zone's adjusted average price. The resulting figures are then compared to the same month in the previous year to track changes in sales activity and prices.

TRW was chosen to provide the data used in the map because many experts say the company's figures are the most comprehensive and accurate available.

The handful of other organizations that issue reports on a regular basis usually sample a relatively small percentage of transactions or limit their surveys in other ways.

"We're counting every grain of sand," said Patrick Corcoran, TRW's data operations manager.

But while many experts say that TRW's statistics are the most comprehensive figures available, even they are not without their shortcomings.

Some Sales Not Counted

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