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Record Sales in May Push Home Prices Higher

Real estate: Strong demand and a shortage of units in Ventura County spur a buying spree. Surge could last through the year.

June 18, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even by the exaggerated standards of this boom year, Ventura County home sales were off the chart last month, staunching talk of a bursting real estate bubble that spooked analysts earlier in 2002.

The county has probably never had more condo and home sales in May than it did for the month this year, said DataQuick Information Systems analyst John Karevoll.

And in setting a price record, the cost of a typical home moved $49,000 higher than in May 2001.

"I'm pretty sure it's a record May," said Karevoll, since last month's sales of 1,661 exceeded the 1988 county benchmark by 106 units. "The only thing that surprises me these days is that so many people are still surprised by this market."

Even the most cautious experts have stopped describing the market run-up as a bubble that is bound to pop, or at least deflate.

Now they say the shortage of housing supply and the strength of buyer demand could easily fuel a surge through the end of the year--if mortgage interest rates stay low.

"We're still seeing multiple offers and we're still seeing bidding wars," said Karen Campbell, president of the Ventura County Coastal Assn. of Realtors, which represents agents in six west county cities.

"I'm conservative. I like to see the real picture, instead of saying your house is going to appreciate $50,000 next month," Campbell said. "But I don't see it slowing down any time soon."

The near-panic of customers afraid they'll miss a lower-priced house continued through May, pushing the county's median cost to $322,000, up $5,000 in a month and $38,000 since January.

The median point is where half the houses cost more and half less.

Meanwhile, sales last month were the highest since last August's peak of 1,748, which was the highest monthly total since 1988.

"I'm always cautious, but I believe it's sustainable," said Peter Greer, president-elect of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors.

"I sure don't think it's going to bust, anyway. I think it will continue to be strong. New listings still are not jumping, and buyers are coming out of the woodwork."

A Conejo Valley home stays on the market an average 26 days before it's sold, the fastest turnaround Greer can remember.

In the west county, a house's market time dropped from 38 days in April to 36 in May.

Condos, a drag on the market for years, sold in an average of 24 days in May, down from 39 in April.

"People are buying up condos like mad, because single-family homes have just gone through the roof," said Jim Barroca, communications manager for the coastal association.

The number of available houses listed by Realtors in the Conejo Valley remained at about 1,000, while west county listings increased from 490 to 557.

Sellers in affluent Oak Park, near the Los Angeles County line, probably had the best month--selling 44% more homes at a 39% higher price than a year ago. The typical home there now sells for $465,000, up $130,000 from a year ago.

The market also sizzled in east Camarillo, where home prices were up $107,000 in a year; in Moorpark, where prices rose $90,000; and in Fillmore, which had a $64,000 bump.

Economist Mark Schniepp, director of California Economic Forecast, said to expect the housing market to plateau within six months.

"What we're seeing is just like 1999 and 2000 in the [stock] market," he said.

"Nobody could quite believe the run-up, and we knew it would end. This will, too. We all have this gut feeling that this is not right."

The bubble won't burst, he said, because this market is driven by lack of supply and high demand.

But the market will level out, because jobs are being created at a slower pace and people are finding other alternatives, such as buying cheaper homes in more distant areas and commuting to work in this county.

"I can guarantee you 100% that prices cannot continue to rise $50,000 year-to-year," Schniepp said.

"It's not sustainable."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

May Home Sales

*--* Year Sales Median Price 1988 1,555 $176,000 1989 1,300 $228,000 1990 856 $228,000 1991 1,066 $213,000 1992 801 $201,000 1993 751 $204,000 1994 1,005 $184,000 1995 844 $184,000 1996 1,030 $199,000 1997 1,070 $200,000 1998 1,312 $213,000 1999 1,308 $237,000 2000 1,321 $256,000 2001 1,519 $273,000 2002 1,661 $322,000

*--*

Source: DataQuick Information Systems

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Breakdown by ZIP Code

*--* Month May Month May 2001 2002 City Zip Code Sales Median Price Sales Median Price Camarillo 93010 90 $278,250 70 $332,500 Camarillo 93012 85 $285,000 96 $392,000 Fillmore 93015 23 $186,000 20 $250,000 Moorpark 93021 73 $250,000 79 $340,000 Oak Park 91377 41 $335,000 59 $465,000 Oak View 93022 10 $216,000 15 $302,000 Ojai 93023 29 $416,250 49 $326,000 Oxnard 93030 101 $236,500 130 $285,000 Oxnard 93033 76 $183,500 84 $196,750 Oxnard 93035 54 $256,000 77 $296,500 Port Hueneme 93041 45 $187,500 51 $200,000 Santa Paula 93060 46 $203,000 38 $231,250 Simi Valley 93063 140 $268,000 110 $297,000 Simi Valley 93065 172 $271,000 158 $313,000 Thousand 91320 104 $397,000 156 $414,000 Oaks Thousand 91360 81 $302,000 89 $325,000 Oaks Thousand 91361 31 $436,500 37 $480,000 Oaks Thousand 91362 98 $339,250 109 $371,818 Oaks Ventura 93001 58 $256,500 42 $253,000 Ventura 93003 84 $256,500 115 $298,000 Ventura 93004 28 $296,000 43 $338,000

*--*

Source: DataQuick Information Systems

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