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Valley Business

March Home Sales Up in Area, but Not to 1998 Levels

Real estate: Single-family houses post 54% increase from February, but fall 3% from year ago. Condo market soars.

April 13, 1999|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Fernando Valley real estate brokers traditionally look to March, the start of the peak spring and summer home-buying season, as a harbinger of what's in store for the months ahead. This year, they have two trends from which to choose.

Figures released Monday by a real estate trade group show that 1,087 single-family homes closed escrow in the Valley in March, a 54.4% increase over February's 704 sales and the largest increase this decade between the months of February and March.

"It's been rare that we've had a good March and not had a good spring," said Beth Sommer, 1999 president of the Southland Regional Assn. of Realtors, which released the sales figures.

At the same time, the March sales total was still shy of the March 1998 figure by about 3%. And it marked the fourth straight month that sales did not best the same month in the previous year.

Jim Link, executive vice president of the association, said that's a pattern we may see repeated throughout the year. He said, "We may see slightly fewer sales," in 1999, but noted that 1998 was a banner year that benefited from the confluence of low interest rates, prices that were just beginning to climb and pent-up demand.

Overall, real estate professionals were pleased with the March numbers.

"It looks like the Valley is off to a rousing start," said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist with the California Assn. of Realtors. She noted that the 54% gain is higher than the bump the industry typically sees in March, but added that year-to-year changes often show a truer picture of the market.

Link noted that home prices in 1999 have continued to edge up, which is good news for equity-starved homeowners but less good news for would-be buyers.

The median cost of a single-family home rose by 11% in March, compared with March 1998, the figures show. That means "that a bargain house costs . . . more this year, depending on your price bracket," Link said.

Meanwhile, the region's condo market continued to post double-digit increases in sales, price and number of new listings.

In March, 327 condos changed hands, up nearly 13% over March 1998 and up 44% compared with February 1999. The median price was $129,000, up nearly 23% from 1998 and up nearly 10% from February.

And there were 477 new condo listings last month, a 20.2% increase from March 1998.

"The condo market is a very strong market for us," said Sommer. "People are looking to get into first-time homes and frequently that's where they go."

Much of the increased condominium activity is centered in the southeast Valley, the region that has posted the highest average condo price for seven of the last 11 months. For March, the figure was $160,800.

Real estate professionals said much of that growth is fueled by the entertainment industry.

John Russell, a Realtor with Gibson & Associates in Studio City, noted that the 1994 Northridge earthquake pulled the rug from under much of the Valley's condo market.

A number of buildings that were badly damaged "just sat there, and people walked away."

"Now, those buildings have been completely redone; they're brand-new," said Russell, who got into the real estate market months after the historic temblor. "Now everything has come dramatically back up . . . especially in the southeast Valley."

* PLENTY OF ROOM: Brokers trying to find tenants for the new 24-story Glendale Plaza face a challenge. B6

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Housing Activity

White single-family home sales in the San Fernando Valley so far this year have lagged behind last year's tally; condo sales continue to rebound.

Single-Family Home Sales

March 1998: 1,124

March 1999: 1,087

Condominium Sales March 1998: 327

March 1999: 290

*

Source: Southland Regional Assn. of Realtors

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