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O.C. Home Sales Fall; Prices Rise

November 11, 1998|DARYL STRICKLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County home sales fell in October--the first year-to-year decline in 16 months--but prices continued their upward march, climbing 10.6% from a year earlier to a median $230,000.

Sales fell 6%, to 3,913 homes, as the gyrating stock market and sharp shifts in mortgage rates apparently spooked some buyers.

But the sales downturn may prove to be little more than a one-month aberration, said John Karevoll, an analyst at Acxiom/DataQuick Information Systems Inc. in La Jolla.

"There's nothing on the horizon that's ominous," Karevoll said. "Frankly, there's nothing we see in the numbers that could derail this for a while."

Indeed, once mortgage rates began retreating after a brief surge, people resumed buying homes at a healthy clip, and that should result in a stronger than usual November housing market survey, he said.

October's median price matches the second-highest median ever reported in Orange County, first reached in August of this year. The all-time high of $236,000 was set in June.

In one of the biggest years ever in Orange County's housing industry, year-over-year prices have risen by double-digit increments in 11 of the last 12 months. The only exception came in September, when prices barely missed the mark, rising only 9.7%.

Like the rest of the nation, where home sales are on a record pace, Tuesday's report indicates that Orange County's housing market still is expanding. Given that job growth remains strong, the current housing boom should be sustained through much of next year.

Still, usually optimistic real estate agents are sensing a softening in the market. They note that buyers are looking at a broader selection of homes, rather than snapping up the first one available.

John Williams, an agent with Re/Max South, said that of 10 listings he has right now, seven have trimmed their prices, usually in 2% increments.

Moreover, Williams has not seen multiple offers on a home in two months. "We're not seeing the bottle-rocket-style appreciation we saw three or four months ago," he said.

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