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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Home Sales for April Decline, but Prices Soar

Real estate: Experts say dip, just as market heads into the busiest time of year, reflects lack of inventory and is a reaction to Fed's increases in interest rates.

May 17, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County housing prices soared in April, but the number of homes sold slumped sharply, suggesting to analysts that the market may finally be slowing down just as it heads into what is typically the busiest part of the year.

Sales across the county tumbled 14% from the same month last year, while the median price rose about 8% to $256,000.

The dip in sales reflects both the lack of homes on the market and a reaction to the Federal Reserve's many attempts to pull on the economy's reins by raising interest rates, economists said.

The Fed increased interest rates for the sixth time in a year Tuesday--to the highest level in nine years--saying the hikes are necessary to keep inflation in check.

"Whenever interest rates go up, you take out another layer of the population from buying," said Bill Watkins, director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project. "A large part of the spending had been because of an increase in wealth. If that's at risk, they're less willing to make major purchases."

Last month, 1,244 homes sold in the county, down from 1,448 a year ago, according to a report by the La Jolla-based research firm Acxiom / DataQuick. 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 for less.

The interest rate for an average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was at 8.34% Monday, according to Bankrate.com, which publishes nightly averages based on its survey of nearly 3,000 banks in 50 states. That's near its highest level in five years, and the rate doesn't account for the Fed's latest hike.

Analysts and real estate agents said rising prices, paired with higher interest rates, have kept out some families who cannot afford an average-priced home. And in the high-end market, the stock market correction of last month has cut into buyers' confidence.

"They suddenly realized that the market can go down," said Mark Schniepp, director of the Center for Regional Economic Research in Santa Barbara. "That hasn't happened in a long time. They realized their portfolios can be very vulnerable."

Other economists said the April sales data did not necessarily mean that the market was headed for a complete slowdown--particularly since the economy remains robust.

"It may be a little wait-and-see," said John Karevoll, an analyst with Acxiom / DataQuick. "So there's a little pause here. It's very likely that the activity we didn't see will manifest itself in May and June."

Real estate agents said interest remains brisk, even if there's not a huge number of affordable homes to buy.

Western Simi Valley had among the largest sales drops in April, with numbers falling by almost a third, from 218 homes sold to 147. Median prices there rose 24.7%, to $276,250.

Ojai and Oak View experienced the largest sales drops--with numbers plummeting 68.2% and 60.4%, respectively. All of the Thousand Oaks area saw big dips, particularly Newbury Park, where sales slid 41.8% and prices remained relatively stable.

Only three of the county's 21 ZIP Codes had sales rise, the largest in Santa Paula, which had a jump of 13.3% and prices up 18.2% to $169,000.

"We had a great month in March, and then in April people tightened up and had to pay their taxes," said Bill Arnold, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential in Ventura. He added that the Fed's rate hike Tuesday will scare off more buyers.

"This year's gonna flatten a bit," Arnold said. "There's all this publicity about interest rates, and that's going to hurt us."

It's just a sign that the Federal Reserve's plan to slow down the economy is working, Schniepp said, not necessarily that the market is headed for a recession.

"This is of no surprise and, for that matter, not of much concern," he said. "People are saying, 'Oh my gosh, it's a slowdown.' Tell me when sales are down 100%. Then we'll be concerned."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ventura County House Sales

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April 1999 April 2000 CAMARILLO

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93010 83 $250,000 81 $310,000 93012 77 $239,000 57 $258,000

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FILLMORE

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93015 15 $155,000 12 $185,000

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MOORPARK

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93021 64 $235,000 55 $247,000

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OAK PARK

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 91377 48 $404,091 33 $342,500

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OAK VIEW

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93022 22 $230,000 7 $235,000

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OJAI

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93023 48 $230,500 19 $360,000

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OXNARD

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93030 103 $173,750 99 $191,000 93033 64 $142,500 50 $169,000 93035 60 $208,000 57 $225,000

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PORT HUENEME

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93041 39 $122,000 42 $169,000

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SANTA PAULA

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93060 30 $143,000 34 $169,000

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SIMI VALLEY

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93063 102 $211,250 107 $231,750 93065 218 $221,500 147 $276,250

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THOUSAND OAKS

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 91320 146 $295,250 85 $300,000 91360 86 $259,500 60 $307,500 91361 31 $400,000 29 $400,000 91362 110 $300,500 107 $385,000

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VENTURA

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Number Median Number Median City / ZIP Code of sales price of sales price 93001 54 $220,500 33 $326,000 93003 90 $190,000 89 $230,000 93004 46 $226,500 35 $255,000 COUNTYWIDE 1,448 $237,000 1,244 $256,000

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Source: Acxiom / DataQuick Information Systems

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