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A year in realty time

Only hindsight offers the perfect view of a dizzying 2006.

December 31, 2006|Diane Wedner, Ann Brenoff, Gayle Pollard-Terry | From Times Staff Writers

The Real Estate section tracked trends near and far in 2006. Where in the country were there bargains still to be had? Was it the year to walk away from the Las Vegas table and perhaps say "Hola!" to Mexico's real estate market?

And closer to home, we watched the city deal with the McMansionization of some of our favorite neighborhoods and mobile home parks going condo. Mortgage rates ticked up, then came down again. Home inventories grew and, no surprise here, foreclosures grew too.

Where do things stand now? Real Estate staff writers revisit some of our 2006 cover stories.

Cooling trend takes hold

The sizzling market at the beginning of the year morphed into a more balanced one by spring as appreciation slowed to a crawl, homes lingered on the market and buyers took over the driver's seat.

By October, a chill reached many of the expensive and mid-range markets. Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Tarzana and Alhambra saw median prices fall at least 10% from September to November, according to the latest figures from La Jolla-based research firm DataQuick Information Systems.

Inglewood, Whittier, Bell, Pasadena and South L.A. still are riding the realty crest, according to DataQuick.

-- Diane Wedner

Loans we love and loans we loathe

Falling mortgage rates -- recently at an 11-month low -- should keep the market from crashing, experts say.

On the home-mortgage front, borrowers of adjustable-rate loans sighed in relief as rates ended the year near 6%.

Thirty-year fixed-rate and 10-year interest-only loans remained the most popular, lenders say. Borrowers who had opted for short, fixed-period adjustable-rate mortgages when rates were at record lows have been dumping them in favor of the more-secure 10-year loans.

Home-equity loans also have lost their luster in favor of fixed-rate second mortgages, brokers say. Borrowers who chose risky negative-amortization loans, which allow low monthly payments but can eat away at home equity, are desperately trying to get out of them now, said L.A.-based Legend Mortgage broker Mitch Ohlbaum.

-- D.W.

No longer flipping out over Vegas

It's still OK to bet the house -- actually, a high-rise condo -- in Sin City. We reported in April that the departure of investors caused at least seven marquee condo construction projects to fold or get put on hold. Since then, the city has seen additional projects evaporate. But demand for hotel rooms and luxury condos near the Strip still has some construction cranes stretching skyward.

MGM is making a splash just off the Strip with the Signature at MGM Grand, which features hotel rooms and residences. The first of three towers opened in June, the second on Dec. 20 and the third is scheduled for 2007. Vdara, the condo-hotel portion of MGM Mirage Corp.'s CityCenter Las Vegas, a $7-billion project, will begin taking reservations Tuesday. As will the center's Veer Towers and the Residences at the Mandarin Oriental.

The all-condo, luxury Sky project is under construction, and the Trump Las Vegas Tower II will take reservations for luxury high-rise condos in January.

"Flip investors have exited the market," said Bruce Hiatt, the owner of Vegas-based Luxury Realty Group. "Now we're getting true buyers."

-- D.W.

The country's hottest hot spots

In May, we offered would-be investors a few out-of-state areas worthy of a close look.

Where in the country were the greatest price gains seen?

The National Assn. of Realtors reported the largest single-family home-price gains in the Salem, Ore., area, where the third-quarter median price of $228,000 was 24.7% higher than the third quarter of 2005. Next was Elmira, N.Y., where a median home price of $93,000 saw a price boost of 21.4% from the third quarter of 2005.

Neither of those places made The Times' roundup. How did the market fare in the places we picked to profile?

The median sales price in northeast Richland County in South Carolina, including Columbia, was $136,979 in October 2005 and had gone up 18.6% by October 2006 to $162,487. That's a jump from $83 to $92 in the average price per square foot.

Walter Rock of Rock Properties in Round Rock, Texas, reports that the single-family median price in the Round Rock-Austin area went up 9% from October 2005 to October 2006.

In Augusta, in Georgia's Columbia County, home prices appreciated 5.8% from 2005 to 2006. In nearby Richmond County, they went up 3.1% in that period.

-- Ann Brenoff

New McRules for McMansions?

Your home is your castle, but does that new house going up on that tiny lot down the street have to be as big as one?

L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge in June proposed exploring how big is too big in response to homeowners who complained about shadows, blocked views and houses out of scale for the neighborhood.

LaBonge is not the only council member interested in reining in McMansions. At the council's direction, the city planning department has been working on proposed guidelines for two years, said deputy planning director Bob Sutton.

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