A surge of late-winter buying pushed Orange County's home sales for 1993 almost 12% ahead of those for the previous year. And December--typically one of the slowest months of the year--accounted for the highest number of sales in 31 months, a real estate data firm reported Thursday.
The new figures from Dataquick Information Systems in San Diego support what real estate professionals have been saying for several months: The housing market, on the decline since early in 1990, seems to have turned around.
"It isn't a return to boom times, but things are gradually improving," said Fountain Valley realtor James Righeimer.
According to Dataquick, 28,878 homes and condominiums changed hands in Orange County last year. Though that total, which included resales as well as new units, was among the smallest since the 1981-82 recession, it represented an 11.9% increase from 25,807 sales for 1992. Dataquick counts sales recorded each month with the county Recorder's Office but excludes transactions such as transfers to trusts.
December's 3,176 sales were the most since May, 1991, and were up 27.9% from 2,483 transactions for December, 1992, said John Karevoll, a Dataquick analyst.
TRW-Redi Property Data, a Riverside-based real estate information company, will release its annual tally of Orange County home sales next week. Those figures are also expected to show 1993 as a turnaround year. Because it uses a slightly different criteria and counts more transactions than Dataquick, TRW analyst Nima Nattagh said the company's tally will put home sales in the county last year over the 30,000 mark.
Thursday's report from Dataquick showed the median housing price--the point at which half of transactions were higher and half lower--at $200,500, down from a median of $210,500 for 1992. A major reason for that decline of nearly 5% is that the '93 market was dominated by smaller homes priced for the first-time buyer.
As a result, the so-called affordability of housing in Orange County reached near-record levels in 1993, opening up home ownership to many people who had been relegated to renter status.
Ernesto Campos, a realtor with Century 21 Casa Grande Realty in Santa Ana, said that sales to first-time buyers in the Latino community have soared in the past three months as falling prices, low interest rates and more liberal standards for government-guaranteed loans have created opportunities for ownership.
The average price of a three-bedroom home in Santa Ana, he said, has dropped from $190,000 to $160,000 in the past year.