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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

With Inventory Down, County Home Sales Tumble 23% in July

August 19, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Home sales in Ventura County slumped sharply in July as prices rose steadily, a sign of a dearth of inventory rather than slowing demand, analysts said.

Reflecting a trend seen across Southern California, sales across the county fell 23.1% compared to July of last year, while the median price was up 10.4%, to $254,000, during that same period. However, the median price was $1,000 lower compared to the previous month.

That compares with a drop of 17% in sales in Los Angeles County, the steepest monthly slide since the early 1990s, and a 21% plummet in Orange County.

"It's fairly apparent that the decline in sales is due to lack of inventory. It's not prices being too high," said John Karevoll, author of a report released Friday by La Jolla-based research firm Acxiom/DataQuick. "It's kind of in a lull right now."

Last month, 1,213 homes sold in the county, down from 1,577 in July 1999, according the report. The sales figures include new and resale homes as well as condominiums. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half sold for less.

The interest rate for an average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was at 7.7% Friday, according to Bankrate.com, which publishes nightly averages based on its survey of nearly 3,000 banks in 50 states.

Economists said that a slow-down in construction could finally be catching up with the county. They said there has been no sign of weakening consumer confidence.

Further, 1998 was a banner year that finally saw prices rise after a mid-1990s slump. Those looking to sell likely took the opportunity then.

"The people who wanted to get out got out last year," said Bill Watkins, director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project.

But, Karevoll said that as prices rise and the housing base decreases, sellers will likely jump back in, looking to capitalize.

"Prices will bump up another notch, and then inventory will flood the market," he said. "People will be able to sell for $280,000 what they wouldn't have sold for $250,000."

Sales plummeted in nearly every ZIP Code in the county. Moorpark and Oak Park had the most significant drops, as sales fell by nearly half in both places. In Oak Park, 34 homes sold last month, compared to 62 a year ago. Prices there rose 14.5% to $362,250. In Moorpark, sales dropped from 87 to 47 homes.

Fillmore and south Oxnard were the only places to see sales rise, by 21.4% and 15.2% respectively. Prices rose in Fillmore from $252,000 to $288,750. In south Oxnard, prices rose from $155,000 to $181,000.

Despite assurances by economists to the contrary, Mark Ramus, owner of Century 21 Tri-Star in Oxnard, said that he has noticed residents being shut out of homes.

"The only thing that concerns me is that with prices up, it means fewer people can qualify for loans," he said. "They're having to sacrifice. Instead of single family [homes], they're taking townhouses or condos."

Vicki Gemette, a real estate agent at Realty Executives in Simi Valley, said her inventory has been depleted "something fierce" and that buyers are jumping on new homes as soon they are on the market.

One family she represented had lost out on four properties before finally deciding they had to jump on an asking price without bothering to barter.

"We're getting into a situation where people aren't allowed to look and shop and feel it," she said. "I hate it when they're looking crazed, the panic buying."

But, she said, she expects the economy to keep the real estate market rolling for a while.

"I just got a phone call from some first-time buyers who just got married. They know they can do it and they're jumping," she said. "It's terrific all over, even though we're scrambling to find properties."

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