For the third month in a row, the median price of a Los Angeles County home was flat at about $407,000 in September as the annual rate of appreciation hovered at just above 20%.
At the same time, the number of homes sold declined 7.8% from a year earlier, to 10,501, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla firm that compiles monthly housing statistics. Last year's September was the strongest in 15 years.
The latest numbers illustrate that "sanity" may be returning to the local housing market, Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser said.
"Buyers aren't jumping at everything" that is put up for sale while "sellers have had to readjust their price expectations," said Kyser, who heads the L.A. County Economic Development Corp.
Real estate broker James Joseph said price adjusting is a "healthy correction" to a housing market that was thrown "completely out of whack." Now, what he's seeing in the East Los Angeles/North Orange County neighborhoods where he works is a "classic stalemate" between buyers and sellers.
"It's a matter of who's going to blink first," he said. "If sellers don't blink, they won't sell their homes."
Still, Los Angeles County hasn't yet seen any "significant" price decreases, said John Karevoll, DataQuick's chief analyst. Last month, the median price -- the point at which half of all homes sell for more, half for less -- rose 21.1% from a year earlier. That followed a 20.7% year-over-year increase in August and a 23.4% year-over-year gain in July.
Karevoll attributed the flattening median in recent months to a leveling off of price increases in higher-end neighborhoods, while lower-cost markets continue to soar. For instance, in the Antelope Valley community of Lancaster, the median price rose 42% to $235,000 last month from a year earlier. But in 90210 territory -- Beverly Hills -- the median price was $1.54 million, down 0.3% from September 2003.
Karevoll said he expected the county's rate of appreciation to ease to the mid-teens before the end of the year. That would be a shift from the nearly 30% year-over-year gains seen earlier this year when the number of buyers far outpaced the number of homes for sale. September was the 15th consecutive month that the county's median had risen at least 20% from a year earlier.
In September, the median price of a resale house rose 22% from a year earlier to $425,000 as sales fell 6.2%. In the condominium market, the median increased 25% to $331,000 while sales declined 11.5%. New homes rose 7.6% to a median of $442,500 while sales fell 13%, according to DataQuick.
Housing data for the remaining Southern California counties are expected today.