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Median Price of Single-Family Valley Home Down Slightly

Real estate: Although slipping 3.1% to $247,000 in September, the price remained the second-highest ever. One expert says the increase for the year could reach 10%.

October 17, 2000|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The median price of a single-family home in the San Fernando Valley slipped in September from a record in August but remained above pre-recession levels.

The median price (the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less) was $247,000 in September, down 3.1% from $255,000 in August, a trade group reported Monday.

But the price remained the second-highest ever posted, about 1% ahead of the previous record of $245,000 set in 1989, according to the report by the Southland Regional Assn. of Realtors.

When prices shot up in August, signaling the end of a long equity deficit for some Valley homeowners, real estate experts predicted that prices would most likely dip some as the market heads into a traditionally slower season.

But for the year, prices each month have averaged about 11% higher than the corresponding month last year, which shows that the price rebound was not just a flash in the pan, real estate experts said.

"All year, prices have consistently been higher this year than they were last year," said Jim Link, executive vice president of the association.

"Earlier in the year, we thought the median price was going to increase about 5% [for the year]," he said. "Now, it looks like it's going to be more in the 10% range."

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The rising prices lured homeowners like Kimberley and Peter Frey back into the market.

Over the years, the couple had watched prices go down, then back up slowly. And they waited for the day they could get the price they felt they needed for their Van Nuys home to justify moving.

That day came in late September, Kimberley Frey said. In less than 24 hours, the couple got $2,500 above their $275,000 asking price.

But by that same token, condos like the one they were eyeing when they began shopping in January also went up--she guesses by as much as $100,000.

"It's been an incredible jump," she said.

While the rising prices have brought equity relief to some owners, not everyone is euphoric.

"Young couples, professionals, are somewhat unhappy with what they can afford in today's market," said Michael Fried, manager of the Studio City office of Gibson & Associates.

"You can call it sticker shock. A lot of people have expectations that their finances can't quite meet."

The combination of rising prices, higher interest rates and a tightening inventory pushed down the sales figures for the month, Link said.

Buyers closed escrow on 1,142 single-family homes in September, down 7.1% from a year ago and down 5.1% from August, according to the report.

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And while earlier in the year, rising prices in the single-family market fueled the growth of condo sales, those sales also fell in September, the report showed.

Keys changed hands for 390 condos, down about 2% from both August and last September, but off more than 10% from the record 434 condos sold in April.

The median price for a condo in the Valley in September was $142,000, up 1.4% from August and up more than 18% from a year ago.

With condo and single-family prices edging up, Link said some buyers are being priced out of the market altogether.

"We started the year under $119,000," Link said, noting that the January condo median was $23,000 below the September figure.

"A swing of more than $20,000 can keep the entry-level buyer, the first-time buyer, from being able to qualify for a loan," he said.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the median price for a single-family home was $247,400, up 10% from a year ago, but down 1.1% from August. The number of homes sold also dipped--to 213 from 217 a year ago, and from 242 in August.

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