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Home Prices Rise Again as Sales Slow

Ventura County's drop in volume is blamed on a lack of supply. Magazine ranks Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks among the top places to live.

December 18, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Home buyers helped keep the median price of a Ventura County residence above $400,000 last month, upping the price tag by $2,000 to $403,000 in November despite fewer homes being sold.

While the median price -- the point at which half the homes cost more, half less -- was up 17.5% compared with November 2002, the volume of home sales slowed 4.5% in the same period, dropping by 61 to 1,303.

"Which makes Ventura County unique. It's the only county in Southern California with a year-over-year decline" last month, said John Karevoll, an analyst with DataQuick Information Systems, which released the home sales data Wednesday.

"Nobody thinks this has to do with a slowdown in sales," he said. "It has to do with a lack of supply. There just aren't enough houses out there to buy. If there were enough homes, you could easily have sales counts 20% higher."

Jeff Comstock, outgoing president of the west county's Coastal Assn. of Realtors, said agents in his Oxnard office weren't lacking for buyers.

"There is still very limited inventory and [strong] competition for the available listings," he said, with at least two or three prospective buyers vying for each home sold.

A total of 15,954 homes have sold in Ventura County for the first 11 months of 2003, down from 16,326 during the same period last year. Karevoll estimates that about 17,400 single-family homes and condominiums will sell through year end, down about 2% from last year's total.

The December median price probably will end near $410,000, predicts Karevoll, still shy of September's record of $415,000. But considering that the January median was $339,000, that would be nearly a 21% calendar year increase. Through Nov. 30, this year's median price in Ventura County was $386,000, which was already 18.8% higher than the $325,000 median for all of 2002.

"There was so much energy in the market all year that sales never really seemed to fall off," said Peter Greer, who will soon conclude his term as president of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors.

Supporting the idea that home buyers are bullish on the eastern portion of the county, Money magazine has selected two Ventura County cities -- Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley -- for its annual list of the most desirable places to live.

More than 20 California cities were among the 87 that made the final cut. Eight communities with more than 100,000 population were in the top 10 for the nation's western region: Anaheim in the No. 3 spot, followed by Santa Rosa, Irvine, Orange, Santa Clarita, Thousand Oaks, Fremont and Simi Valley. Plano, Texas, and Scottsdale, Ariz., topped the list.

The list, distilled from statistics on 271 U.S. cities, was based on population growth, family income, median home price and other factors, such as the number of residents with college educations who work as professionals.

Each community had to be within 60 miles of a major city and have a median household income above $50,000 and an unemployment rate below the national average.

"I'd rate us No. 1, but 8 is OK," Thousand Oaks Mayor Bob Wilson Sr. said. "We have so many people out there who could live anyplace in the world and they chose to live in Thousand Oaks."

Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell pointed out that his city and its neighbor to the south kept their growth rates at a manageable 20% and 19%, respectively, since 1990.

By contrast, Plano grew 113% over the decade, while Scottsdale grew 70%.

"Once again, it shows that our area is a very desirable place for people to come for its safety, quality of life, for its aesthetics, for its schools -- for all the reasons people want to come, work and raise a family in a community," he said.

Sedell credits the councils of each city for building communities that rank high on both the Money desirability list and in the FBI's annual statistics of safest major cities.

"Once again, we're pitted against Thousand Oaks in a friendly rivalry, as we are in the safest city categories -- where we consistently score a little higher," Sedell said. "But it's a rivalry that says a lot for both cities."

But Comstock, whose association represents six cities on the other side of the Conejo Grade, said that there would always be a number of buyers who prefer his sales territory.

"All that being said, there are still a lot of people who like it a little closer to the coast," he concluded.

*(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Sales since 1988

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

*--* Price Sales 1988 $203,000 1,466

1989 $225,000 1,057

1990 $216,000 689

1991 $208,000 585

1992 $204,000 817

1993 $197,000 788

1994 $189,000 841

1995 $193,000 927

1996 $186,000 882

1997 $207,000 942

1998 $230,000 1,092

1999 $241,000 1,217

2000 $266,000 1,274

2001 $291,000 1,254

2002 $343,000 1,364

2003 $403,000 1,303

*--*

Source: DataQuick Information Systems

Los Angeles Times

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November home sales by ZIP Code

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