Fueled by low mortgage rates and increasing consumer confidence, Orange County's nascent housing recovery continued in July as both home sales and prices increased over last year.
Last month, 3,781 homes were sold in the county, a 29.8% jump from last year and a slight increase over the 3,726 sold in June, according to Acxiom/DataQuick.
Prices also remained strong, with the median Orange County home selling for $199,000 in July, 3.1% more than last year, but less than the $201,000 mark set in June.
Analysts say the market has hit a plateau in price, but expect values to move up a few notches this fall.
"These things move in stages," said John Karevoll, Acxiom/DataQuick analyst. When it plateaus again [later this year], prices will be 3% to 5% higher."
Resale houses are once again in high demand and increasingly hard to find, with sales increasing and few new listings coming on the market.
"There's more buyers out there than there are houses," said Rich Varner, an agent with Century 21 Chuck Stevens in La Habra. "We are starting to get multiple offers" on houses, he said.
Home sales and prices in L.A. County are not expected to be available until the end of the week.
In Orange County, three- or four-bedroom homes under $200,000 are disappearing quickly, agents said, as many first-time home buyers enter the market lured by low mortgage rates and the threat of rising prices. Since early June, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has been dropping, reaching a low of 7.09% in late July before edging back up slightly to 7.23% this month, according to Morro Bay-based Mortgage News Co. Both rates involved paying fees of at least two percentage points.
The total number of resale homes was up 30.4% last month to 2,650 from 2,032 in July 1996. And prices are continuing to rise. The median resale home price increased 5.4% to $215,000 in July from $204,000 the same period last year. Prices are increasing for homes of all values. The median price per square foot of resale houses increased slightly to $127.43 from $126.02 in June and and $123.28 last year.
"The overall perception of the economy is so much better, buyers are now willing to take a long-term risk," said Mark Ackrich, an agent with Re/Max South County in Newport Beach.
But if buyers are willing to take the plunge, few sellers are. Owners with little or no equity in their homes are still holding on and waiting for prices to rise. Agents say that may change this fall as the newly adopted capital gains tax cut brings more homes on the market in older, well-established areas.