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Decline Slows in O.C. Home Sales : Real estate: Optimism tempered, however, by market's mixed signal--an 8.7% drop in the median price of a home over same month a year ago.


Orange County home sales stabilized in October, a key sign that the real estate market here is beginning to recover.

But prices of Orange County homes continued to slump, an indication that the market hasn't shaken its doldrums. The median price dropped 8.7% in October to $189,000 from $207,000 in the same month last year, according to Dataquick Information Services in La Jolla.

After generally enduring double-digit decreases most of the year, Orange County home sales dropped only 1.5% during October from the same month last year.

"It's the most benign drop we've had this year," said John Karevoll, a financial editor with Dataquick. "It's quite an improvement. Things have leveled off and are getting stronger."

The recent approval of the county's bankruptcy recovery plan, plus low mortgage rates and home prices, helped boost home sales, real estate agents said.

Even more encouraging, another real estate data company on Friday reported that home sales actually increased nearly 3% in October from the same month last year.

Still, the drop in home values during the month is troubling, Karevoll said. In September, home prices dropped only 5.9%. Home values have declined 18% during the past five years in Orange County, according to Dataquick.

"We're seeing that home prices are as low now as they are in quite some time, and some areas aren't at the bottom as yet," said Chandler Barton, chairman of Coldwell Banker Corp. in Mission Viejo. "But in other areas those homes are beginning to sell. We were extremely pleased with our October results in Orange County."

October home sales figures, which track closings of home sales that probably took place months earlier, were not yet available for other Southern California counties.

Within the county, October sales were especially strong in Anaheim, where sales increased nearly 90% in some regions that had experienced sharp slumps in sales.

"I can't say, 'Wow, thank goodness we're back,' because we're not," said Solon Shaw, a real estate broker and owner of Century 21 in Anaheim. "Business has just been down, although there's been a lot of interest."

Shaw said that he didn't expect things to improve much in his area in the next two months, because home sales typically fall off during the holiday season.

This year has been tough for the real estate market in Orange County.

In the first quarter, Orange County sales dropped 23.5% from the same time a year ago. They declined 24.7% in the second quarter, as poor weather and the fallout from the county's bankruptcy filing in December hampered the market during the spring and early summer months, said Dataquick. During the third quarter ending in September, sales declined about 11%.

"October is the first month this year we've seen such an improvement, but October of last year is when the market started going down in Orange County," said Nima Nattagh, of TRW REDI Property Data in Anaheim.

"We've had one month of improved sales but I think we still need to wait a few more months to call this a trend," he said.


Orange County Home Sales

October home sales dropped 1.5% from the same month last year while the median price fell 8.7% from $207,000 to $189,000 during the same period. October sales of new and existing homes, by ZIP code:


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