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Home Sales Still Strong Despite a Seasonal Lag : Housing: Report says the county's housing market in September showed a 9.3% improvement over the previous year.

October 18, 1994|MARY F. POLS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite a slight lag after a summer boom, Ventura County's September house sales were up 9.3% over the same period last year, with the most dramatic increases in Moorpark, Ventura and Thousand Oaks, according to a report released Monday.

A steady decrease in prices continues to encourage first-time buyers and has kept the market healthy, according to Nima Nattagh, an analyst with TRW-REDI Property Data.

Last month, 869 homes were sold countywide, a jump of 74 from September, 1993. But sales had been much stronger over the summer as 982 houses changed hands in August alone.

"There has definitely been a slowdown," Nattagh said. "But I think it is due to the fact that we had an exceptionally good second quarter and that sales are seasonal in nature."

Local real estate agents said they have come to expect such back-to-school slowdowns.

"In general, the market does tend to slow down in the fall," said Mary Leydon, a Coldwell Banker agent who sells property in Moorpark. "Most people like to correlate their move with the school year."

Although she had prepared for a September lull, Leydon and other Moorpark real estate agents were unexpectedly busy during the month.

Monthly sales in Moorpark nearly doubled, up from 41 houses a year ago to 72 last month. And unlike most cities, prices in Moorpark actually increased--from $237,244 in 1993 to $244,302 last month.

"The market is thriving in Moorpark," Leydon said. "I think a lot of the companies transferring employees into this area must have put it onto their lists of good places to live. A number of buyers have mentioned that to me."

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Lower prices continue to draw buyers from the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles, particularly to less expensive areas of Ventura, Simi Valley and Oxnard, agents said.

While the average Ventura County house sold for $235,241, prices in eastern Simi Valley were much lower, averaging about $187,000. In Oxnard, the average price of houses away from the beach--where 80% of all homes sold--ranged from $151,000 to $180,000.

Houses in more expensive areas were less likely to sell quickly in the bargain-driven market, according to the report. In Oak Park, where the average home price was $274,412, 36 houses were sold during September, the same number as the previous September.

Another sign of an increasingly stable market, Nattagh said, is the lack of bargains from foreclosure. While some foreclosed real estate is still available--leftovers from the recession--it is priced much closer to market value, he said.

Judy Hoag, president of the Ventura Assn. of Realtors, agreed.

"We're not seeing the numbers of foreclosures that we saw at one point," Hoag said. "They are not the bargains that they were at all. Back in the beginning, it seemed like the banks were dropping them to get rid of them. But they're not doing it any longer. Prices are at market in most cases, or close to."

Experts disagreed on how much rising mortgage interest rates have affected the market.

"I don't think the increase in interest rates has been large enough or for long enough to adversely impact the market," Nattagh said. "And historically speaking, the rates are still low."

Mortgage rates have jumped from about 7% for a 30-year mortgage a year ago to about 9% today.

Corrine MacDougall, an agent with Bob Ely Realty in Moorpark, said she thinks rising interest rates may be keeping buyers out of the market.

"Business has slowed in the last month," MacDougall said. "I think that is due to the rise in interest rates. We usually have a drop-off when school starts, then we pick up Oct. 1. But it hasn't picked up this year."

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But Hoag said she thinks first-time buyers may be jumping into the market now out of fear that rates will rise even more.

"That's at least partially accountable for the market," Hoag said.

From her point of view, the market has leveled off. Prices are relatively stable, there are plenty of buyers and even the weather is cooperating, she said.

"If you look outside, it's pretty nice weather," Hoag said. "I think people are finding us. Ventura is doing very well. It seems like a healthy market to me."

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