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Local Homes Get Even Pricier

The median cost in Ventura County surpasses $400,000 for the first time. July sales, however, fall 5.8% from last year.

August 21, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

The price of a typical home in Ventura County topped $400,000 for the first time last month as buyers took advantage of low mortgage rates before their recent rise.

Ventura County maintained its distinction as the second-costliest housing area in Southern California behind Orange County, with the median price of a residence -- with half costing more and half costing less -- reaching $403,000, a 21.8% increase from July 2002.

The number of homes sold last month was down 5.8% from the previous year to 1,527, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate research firm based in La Jolla. Ventura County was the only county of the six in Southern California to experience a drop in sales. Increases ranged from 6.3% in San Bernardino County to 14.6% in San Diego County.

"Even though we saw a decrease in the number of homes sold, the sales count is still considerably strong," said John Karevoll, a DataQuick analyst. "The numbers would have been even better if there were more homes available for sale."

There were fewer sales in each category that the company monitors; new homes, resale homes and resale condominiums were all down compared with the year before. And when measured against June, only resale homes were up for the month, by just 39 houses.

Now that the local median is above $400,000, Karevoll said he believed prices were not likely to fall for some time, if ever. Orange County first exceeded $400,000 in April and by July its median had reached $428,000.

"I don't think there's any going back now," he said. "It may go down for a month or two, but it will stay up" in the $400,000s.

Year-to-year price increases were strong in all categories. Resale homes were up 17.5% to $410,000, condo prices increased 18.4% to $284,250 and new home prices jumped more than 48% to $619,000.

"This is catch-up time," said Peter Greer, president of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors. "It's making up for the years when prices didn't go up."

Median prices for July peaked at $232,000 in 1989 during the last housing boom. From there, mid-summer prices fell slowly through 1995, to a low of $186,000, before climbing back.

In the last eight years, median prices have more than doubled.

Much of the increase in east county home sales, Greer said, has come from move-up buyers cashing in their equity and selecting a newer, often larger home.

For example, Greer said a person who bought a Conejo Valley home for $30,000 three decades ago and paid it off may have up to $500,000 in equity and could now qualify to buy a home priced at $800,000 or $900,000.

Rising interest rates, now near 6%, and higher prices haven't scared away many buyers, according to Greer.

He said one couple camped out in his office Wednesday morning waiting to see whether any new listings in their price range became available. When one surfaced, they immediately went to see it.

Kay Wilson-Bolton, who operates Century 21 offices in Fillmore, Santa Paula and Ojai, said the demand for homes was equally intense in the west county.

She said a small, three-bedroom, one-bath house in Santa Paula received five offers Wednesday, the highest one $11,000 more than the $299,000 asking price.

"Prices are continuing to rise, but I don't see people falling out of the loop," Wilson-Bolton said. "I believe if we had twice as much inventory, we'd have twice as many buyers."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Ventura County home sales

July figures for home sales in Ventura County since 1988, with median prices and number of sales

*--* Price Sales 1988 $188,000 1,794

1989 $232,000 1,026

1990 $217,000 798

1991 $216,000 902

1992 $208,000 842

1993 $198,000 817

1994 $191,000 909

1995 $186,000 692

1996 $193,000 909

1997 $202,000 1,101

1998 $224,000 1,662

1999 $230,000 1,577

2000 $254,000 1,213

2001 $275,000 1,576

2002 $331,000 1,621

2003 $403,000 1,527

*--*

Source: DataQuick Information Systems

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