Finally, in Cypress, they found a four-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath home for $239,000. They beat by one day another bidder, who offered $3,000 more, all in cash. "We just got really lucky," said Rodriguez, 28, a Tustin accountant.
Agents say the market is particularly strong for homes priced under $500,000. In some cases, buyers are purchasing homes that lack some of the amenities they're seeking because they fear that nothing else will be available while interest rates are low.
"Buyers are in more of a panic than they were before," said Richard Daskam at Coldwell Banker Alliance Realty in Los Alamitos.
In Santa Monica and around West Los Angeles, agents said they have begun to detect hesitancy in a number of potential buyers. Some fear a strike in the entertainment business, and others have been shaken by failures and layoffs among dot-coms. Whatever the reason, they now are looking for less costly homes.
"A few people said they'd be ready at the start of the year, but they've now said, 'Call me back in a few more months,' " said Linda Semon, an agent at Coldwell Banker Santa Monica. "It's really a good market, but there are buyers holding back."
Lower mortgage rates have helped reduce monthly payments. With a 10% down payment and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 6.6%, the monthly payment for a median-priced home in Los Angeles County fell $72 a month from a year earlier to $1,148. In Orange County, the figure fell 8% to $1,584 a month.
The DataQuick report covers home sales that closed in December, reflecting agreements between home sellers and buyers over the previous 30 to 60 days. A similar report is expected to be released later this week for Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Orange County's median home prices in January showed strong gains from prior years.
Orange County Home Sales
The number of homes sold grew 5% in January and the median price rose 10% from last year's first month.