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Ventura County Home Sales Soar

Purchases in August reach the second-highest level since 1988. The median price hits $404,000, up $70,000 in a year.

September 20, 2003|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

Despite persistent warnings that Ventura County's housing market was too hot to sustain, home prices reached record levels again in August and sales surged to the second-highest level since 1988.

Not even a sharp uptick in mortgage rates this summer could burst the market's bubble. In fact, just the opposite occurred, said analyst John Karevoll of DataQuick Information Systems.

"It seems the rising interest rates pushed more people off the fence," Karevoll said. "The perception is that you may pay more now, but at least you can get into a house. And six months from now you may not be able to."

The median price of a Ventura County home -- the point at which half sell for more and half for less -- rose to $404,000 in August, up $1,000 from the month before and $70,000 in the last year.

Sales of houses and condominiums totaled 1,735 last month, the highest monthly figure since 1988, except for 1,748 in August 2001.

Generally, DataQuick's numbers reflected sales completed on escrows opened in June and July.

But Karevoll said he had seen nothing to suggest a weakening since then. Indeed, a recent decline in the mortgage rate could help the market even more, he said.

"The numbers are still strong," he said. "Throughout Southern California, there are more people out there trying to buy than are trying to sell. And the market is particularly tight in Ventura County."

City and county policies, adopted by Ventura County voters in the 1990s, have limited housing development to prescribed urban areas.

Ventura County's 2.2% sales increase last month, compared with the previous August, was by far the lowest in Southern California, which had a 12.1% sales increase overall. But Ventura County's 21% increase in home prices nearly equaled the region's, and it remained the Southland's second most-expensive county behind Orange County.

While DataQuick's August figures reflected contracts signed in early summer, figures from the west county's Coastal Assn. of Realtors showed newly opened escrows and indicate that momentum continued through August.

Home and condo sales rose from 410 in June to 502 in July to 507 in August, the association reported. And the number of days an existing west county house or condo stayed on the market last month -- 33 -- was the same as in June and three fewer than in July, said Jim Barroca, communications manager of the association.

"It's just more of the same," said Oxnard agent Jeff Comstock, president of the Coastal Assn. of Realtors. "In my last three sales, there's been three to five offers within a couple of days. The agents in my office tell me they're still competing with other buyers when they're presenting offers."

Ventura broker Karen Campbell said her 13-agent office broke all its sales records in July and that the surge has continued. Instead of chilling buyers' enthusiasm, the spike in interest rates "created a frenzy," she said. "They thought they'd better hurry up or they'd miss the market."

The same was apparently true in the east county.

Peter Greer, president of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors, said the market has remained strong throughout the summer. From Agoura to Thousand Oaks, homes were selling in an average of 22 days during the first week of August, while a typical home sold in just 18 days last week.

"I thought I was seeing a slowing for a little while, but I was wrong," Greer said. "Buyers are still scrambling to find the home of their choice. Mortgage rates are still exceptionally low."

This year has also seen many longtime owners cashing in their gains and buying new homes in the east county, where a home-building boom has accelerated in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Moorpark, he said.

"Ventura County is showing its true colors; this is still a great place to live," Greer said. "People are moving here from the [San Fernando] Valley. But we have a lot of move-up buyers from within town too."

How much a property increased in value varied depending on type: The median price of new homes was $560,000, up 34% in a year; the typical price of existing homes was $415,000, up 16.6%; while the price of condos was $300,000, up 25.5%.

The real estate run-up remained strongest in the white-collar east county, where the sales prices of many homes in Thousand Oaks and Moorpark jumped about $100,000 during the last year. Most expensive, and experiencing the biggest price hike, were homes in the Westlake and Lake Sherwood areas, where a typical home sold for $615,000, up from $485,000 a year before.

At the other end of the spectrum, prices stabilized in Ventura and sales fell, mostly because so few homes were on the market, agents said.

What's to come?

"I'm looking for the rate of appreciation to slow up some, because I don't think we can sustain 20% per year," Comstock said. "But I don't see a downtick at all so far."

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Sales since 1988

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

*--* Price Sales 1988 $195,000 1,823

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