Fewer San Fernando Valley homes closed escrow in 1995 than the year before, and prices declined for the fifth consecutive year, dashing hopes that 1995 would be a turnaround year for the local real estate market.
The number of residential units sold in the Valley in 1995 was 11,733, 5.8% lower than the 1994 figure, according to the San Fernando Valley Assn. of Realtors, the state's largest Realtors group.
If single-family homes are considered separately from condominiums--which sold briskly in 1995--the slowdown is even more dramatic: 9,775 single-family homes closed escrow in 1995, compared with 10,860 in 1994--a drop of nearly 10%.
Although average home prices in the Valley have been falling since 1990, sales activity had been picking up in recent years as new low prices brought home ownership within reach for many first-time buyers. But in 1995, even that trend slowed, with the number of closed escrows down for the first time in three years, despite bargains around every corner.
What activity there was continued to be at the low end of the market. The year saw the median price of a single-family Valley home (the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less) drop to its lowest point since 1987, falling 6.4% to $166,958.
Average home prices also fell, closing the year at $218,342, 5.4% lower than $230,917 at the end of 1994.
The slowdown in Valley real estate sales was not as steep as that in Ventura County, however. The number of home sales in Ventura slipped 14% in 1995, although the average price of homes sold edged up by a scant 0.2%, according to a report issued by TRW REDI Property Data.
For the year 1995, the average price of a Ventura County home was $230,296.
The results were sobering for real estate professionals--even those normally hellbent on giving any news a positive spin. "There is no question about it. 1995 was a lackluster year," said Fred Sands, president of Fred Sands Realtors.
"I haven't met anyone in awhile who was really happy with the price they got for their house," said Bernie Leibovitch, an agent in Sands' Northridge office.
Realtors association officials said that although prices aren't falling as steeply as a year or two ago, they don't expect any dramatic rebound in the very near future.
Northridge homeowner Annie Sesma, 73, doesn't need statistics to show her how slow the market is. She's been trying to sell her three-bedroom home on and off for several years.
In the late '80s, the house was appraised at $250,000, she said. She put it up for sale four years ago at $186,000, then lowered the price to $159,000, and again to $140,000. Despite the new rock-bottom price, she got no offers in 1995.
"There are just a lot of looky-loos," said Sesma, who paid $26,000 for the home 30 years ago. "They come and say, 'Oh, how nice.' But if they see one scratch or whatever, they say they want all these repairs, or new carpet . . . They expect too much."
But it was a buyers' market for those looking for cheap homes. Houses in the lower price ranges, $200,000 and under, sold briskly in 1995, as did condominiums.
"I'm selling to a lot of immigrants . . . and a lot of younger people just out of college, young business professionals and divorcees," said Leibovitch. The number of condominiums sold in the Valley in 1995 was 1,958, up 23% from 1,591 the previous year. Real estate agents said that the fact that many Valley condominiums were renovated following the earthquake has helped sales.
"It's like they are brand new," said Jerry Bolin, branch sales manager of the Coldwell Banker office in Woodland Hills.
The median price of a condominium was $97,100, down 15.4% from $114,800 in 1994. The average condominium price was $106,067, down 11.6% from $119,975 the year before.
Sales at the low end of the market have failed to produce a domino effect farther up the price scale because so many cheaper homes are being sold by banks, asserted Bolin. Those selling "are not people who are buying other homes," he said. "There's no move up."
"Buyers will return to the market in great numbers when it's clear that all of the earthquake and recession-related foreclosures have worked their way through the system," said Jim Link, executive vice president the Realtors association in a written statement. Link predicted a turnaround would come, perhaps in early 1997.
But other real estate agents were uncharacteristically cautious about making projections. Although many noted that corporate downsizing seems to be tapering off, and jobs can be expected to pick up in the entertainment fields and elsewhere in coming years, few were bold about the prospects for prices increasing this year.
"We have been brought back down to earth," explained Bob Verna, president of Century 21 Vic Harvey Realtors in Tarzana.