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Home Sales Volume Drops in Southland for 3rd Month

Tight supplies, high prices and escrow delays contribute to decline. The Inland Empire, however, draws buyers.

June 19, 2003|Bonnie Harris | Times Staff Writer

Combined sales of houses and condominiums dropped in May for the third straight month in Southern California, as buyers continued to grapple with smaller inventories and record prices.

According to a report released Wednesday by DataQuick Information Systems, the number of homes sold dropped in Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties -- the region's most expensive housing markets -- while sales volume hit record highs in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the region's most affordable markets. Overall, Southland house and condominium sales declined 3.1% from May of last year.

The report also showed that the median sales price of new and existing homes and condominiums in Southern California reached a record $312,000 last month, up 18.2% from $264,000 in May 2002.

The drop in sales volume was attributed not to a decline in demand but to an overall shortage of homes on the market, coupled with a high rate of mortgage refinancings that is causing delays in escrow closings, brokers said. Typical signs of a softening market, such as an increase in foreclosures and a rise in the use of adjustable rate mortgages, are not being seen.

"Those things are largely absent," said John Karevoll, the DataQuick analyst who compiles the sales data from property records. "Nothing points to a slowdown yet."

The year-over-year percentage increases in the median sales price ranged from 15% for Orange County to 22.4% for San Bernardino. Riverside's increase was 19.3%.

All counties posted record sales prices except Orange, where the median was down $4,000 from April, a decline analysts said reflects a price drop for new homes there.

The median sales price for houses and condominiums in May was $398,000 in Orange County, up from $346,000 a year earlier, and $387,000 in Ventura County, compared with $322,000 a year earlier. Riverside County's median price was $241,000 in May, versus $202,000, and San Bernardino's was $186,000, up from $152,000. San Diego's median price climbed to $375,000, compared with $315,000.

DataQuick reported last week that the median home price in Los Angeles County rose 21.3% to $313,000 while the number of homes sold fell 7.6%.

"Prices may keep climbing, but they can't keep climbing at the pace we've been seeing," said Jim Downing, a Prudential real estate agent in San Clemente. "We've already been pushing the limits for months now."

In the Inland Empire, however, there is a strong supply of new homes and lower prices to attract buyers who are willing to commute, agents said.

"Obviously we are the bright spot in terms of what you can get for your money right now," said Janet Camden, an agent with Century 21 in Temecula.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Low supply, high demand

Supply shortages and record-high prices held Southern California home sales volume down in May. Prices in thousands.

*--* # sold # sold % Med. Prc Med. Prc % Area 5/02 5/03 chg 5/02 5/03 chg Los Angeles 11,753 10,863 -7.6% $258 $313 21.3% Orange County 5,091 4,747 -6.8 346 398 15.0% San Diego 5,297 5,047 -4.7 315 375 19.0% Riverside 4,974 5,265 5.9 202 241 19.3% San Bernardino 3,615 3,940 9.0 152 186 22.4% Ventura 1,661 1,525 -8.2 322 387 20.2% So. California 32,391 31,387 -3.1 264 312 18.2%

*--*

Source: DataQuick Information Systems

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