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VALLEY BUSINESS

Home Values Continue Climbing in February

Real estate: The trend surprised some experts who thought January's sluggishness would continue.

March 14, 2000|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Home values and sales stayed on the upswing in the San Fernando Valley in February despite heavy rains, according to the Southland Regional Assn. of Realtors.

The median price of a single-family home rose a modest 1.4% compared to January, to $225,000. But that's up a healthy 7.1% from January 1999.

A total of 789 single-family homes closed escrow, up 11.9% from January and up 12.1% from year-ago figures.

The median price for a condo rose 10.5% to $131,000 in February, a rise of 11.5% over the same month in 1999. Volume sales of condos went up 16.8% over January and are now 25.6% over last year.

"It was a little unexpected that February would be as good as it was, and not just because of the bad weather," said Jim Link, executive vice president of the association. "January was a bit sluggish, so we were surprised that buying was so heavy in February."

The market turned out to be strong across the entire range of home values, he said, even with prices steadily going up.

"If anything, the rising prices spurred people on to 'buy now,' " Link said. "They figured if they wait much longer, they will be able to afford less house for the money."

Although rising, housing prices are still relatively stable considering it's a seller's market, he said. "There is not one segment of the market where there is ample supply to meet demand," Link said. "Inventory is getting tighter."

Although February was hotter than expected, the Realtors association is sticking to its prediction of a 5% to 8% rise in prices over the course of the year. That would bring the median Valley home value close to its record-high median of $245,000 set in 1989.

"We are still predicting that home values in all segments will be back to those levels next year," Link said. "If prices go up faster than expected, we could reach that by the end of this year."

The one factor that could spoil the party is a spike in interest rates, he said. The steady rise in rates over the last several months seems to have not had a big effect locally. But if rates move upward rapidly without a corresponding rise in salaries, the healthy housing market could go code blue.

Meanwhile, in the Santa Clarita Valley, the number of single-family homes sold rose to 173 in February, compared with 108 the month before. But the median price slipped slightly to $234,000.

"Santa Clarita was such a hot market a few months ago, that it was due for a breather," Link said. "We fully expect it to rise again soon."

Even with the "breather" month, the median price for homes in Santa Clarita was up 6.4% over February of last year.

The median price of condos in Santa Clarita was up 5% for the month to $215,000. That's a 7% increase in a year.

Link pointed out that in Santa Clarita, a lot of new homes are under construction. "People are buying them before they are completed," he said.

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