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Orange County Home Sales Reach Highest Level in 8 Years


Orange County's fledgling housing recovery showed no signs of slowing last month, as home prices continued to climb and sales reached their highest level in nearly eight years, a real estate data firm said Tuesday.

The median sale price for Orange County homes was $203,000 in August, the highest in nearly three years, according to DataQuick Information Services.

"The real estate market has lagged behind the general economic recovery. Now it's finally beginning to catch up," said John Karevoll, a DataQuick analyst. "And there's every indication that this level of activity is sustainable."

Realtors say a booming economy had already given buyers more confidence but that rising prices and low interest rates are pushing them off the fence.

Still, this is far from the frenzied market of the late 1980s, when agents received multiple offers on houses and buyers bid up prices significantly.

A total of 3,989 homes sold in Orange County in August, the highest volume for any month since October 1989. Sales were 17.7% higher than in the same month last year. The $203,000 median sales price last month is 3.6% higher than the year-ago figure and up from $199,000 in July.

Resale homes showed the biggest gains in average price, jumping nearly 8.9% to $220,000 from $202,000 in August 1996. The number of resale transactions also shot up 19.2%, to 2,658 from 2,229 in the same month last year.

"There's a lot of built-up demand," said Pat Neal, a Huntington Beach real estate broker. "Homes that used to be on the market 120 to 150 days last year are now on the market for 40."

Many first-time home buyers are entering the market now before the market heats up further, analysts say. Low interest rates and lending programs requiring smaller down payments are helping them take the plunge.

Through the end of August and early September, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates averaged 7.35%, with fees totaling 2 percentage points, according to Mortgage News Co. in Morro Bay. In April, such mortgage rates averaged 7.96%.

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