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Local Home Prices Soar in May

Median value hits a new record in Ventura County. Biggest gains are seen in north Thousand Oaks, while Oak Park loses ground.

June 23, 2003|Andy Olsen | Times Staff Writer

Billy Hunter doesn't need a study to know a home is a good investment in the Southland. He hasn't even spent a night in his new Ventura house, and he's up $74,000.

Ventura County's median home price rose again in May to a record $387,000, pushed by intense demand and low mortgage rates. That price is $65,000 higher than it was in May 2002, marking the third-highest gain for that period in Southern California behind Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, according to DataQuick Information Systems, which tracks sales of single-family homes and condominiums.

Hunter is not complaining.

When the 30-year-old from Oxnard began looking at homes in Ventura a few years ago, lofty prices led him and his wife, Jorai, to settle for a $126,000 condo in Port Hueneme. Two years later, they sold the condo for $325,000 and used the extra money to put an offer on a two-bedroom house in midtown Ventura.

"We more than doubled [the condo's] value," Hunter said. "We love Ventura and we're very happy with the neighborhood we got."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Housing chart -- A housing chart in some editions of Monday's California section included prices for Oak Park that were actually for Oak View. The median home price for Oak Park for May was $382,500, down 17.7% from a year earlier. The median home price for Oak View was $352,250, up 16.6% from a year earlier.

Winning out over numerous offers, the Hunters got the house for $395,000 in March. Before they could move in, a June reappraisal by their real estate agent valued the property at $469,000 -- a 19% leap.

An appraisal of similar-sized homes in the area by ElectronicAppraiser.com, a Florida company that tracks real estate data, did not produce quite such a high price for most.

Still, Hunter's story is typical. John Karevoll, an analyst with DataQuick, said the current annual rate of price appreciation is about 20%, but should slow to around 15% by the fall and to 12% by the end of the year as long as interest rates don't drop further.

Across the county, individual home categories all showed significant price jumps from May 2002. The median price of new homes soared by $109,000, or 25%, to $539,000; condo prices rose $39,000, or 17%, to $271,500; and the cost of existing homes climbed $71,500 to $450,000, a gain of 21%.

Peter Greer, a real estate agent and president of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors, pointed out that price inflation is not unique to the Southland. "I don't think that [prices are] rising so much as they're catching up" to those in other regions. Compared to the median home price in the nine-county Bay Area last month -- $427,000 -- Ventura houses are a bargain.

The biggest winners in the county are north Thousand Oaks homeowners in the 91362 ZIP Code, where the median home price climbed $207,680 to $579,500, 56% higher than the same time last year. Oceanfront property in Oxnard ranked second, with a $107,000 rise to $405,000, a 36% gain.

Oak Park residents finished with the least luck. The median price there slipped $82,500 to $382,500, a decline of nearly 18%.

Greer points to low mortgage rates as the fuel for the market gains, making expensive homes cheaper to buy than they were a decade ago. "The price of a house is not the critical thing for buyers," he said.

A house that cost $200,000 in 1993 would now cost around $400,000, he said. But mortgage rates hovered near 9% then. Today's rates of around 5% help offset high prices.

On top of that, Greer said, more buyers seem willing to sacrifice other luxuries to live in Southern California.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," Greer said. "The person who will give up the RVs and Ski-Doos and the playthings to buy a house is going to do it."

Greer suspects that construction of high-end homes will slow to make room for development within urban areas, because the county faces a severe shortage of affordable housing. He said it's increasingly difficult for firefighters, police officers and other workers to buy homes.

The number of houses sold in May declined to 1,525 from 1,661 in April, an 8.2% decrease. The drop in sales occurred in every type of housing. The number of new homes sold was down by 19%, resale homes slid 7% and condos dropped by 6%.

Greer said he frequently has multiple purchase offers on homes, and the average time homes remain on the market is among the shortest in the nation. Near his office in Moorpark, homes are being snatched after only 3 1/2 days, he said.

The bottom line, Greer said, is that more people are buying homes and keeping them. Normally the number of homes on the market increases in the fall after the summer moving flurry calms. He warned not to expect that this fall.

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