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California home sales and prices inch up

The San Francisco Bay Area accounted for a higher percentage of the California market gains in September.

October 16, 2009|Peter Y. Hong

The state's housing market showed more signs of recovery in September, as the median sales price rose nearly 1% from August, to $251,000, a real estate research firm reported Thursday.

The number of homes sold in California also was up last month 1% from August. A total of 40,216 homes were bought in California in September, roughly the same number as the same month last year, according to San Diego-based MDA DataQuick.

The pricey San Francisco Bay Area accounted for a higher percentage of homes sold statewide, bolstering prices. The median Bay Area home sales price in September was up 1%, to $365,000. The number of Bay Area homes sold was up 5% from August; the total of 7,879 homes sold was also 9% greater than the number of homes sold the same month last year.

DataQuick said the relatively brisk activity was driven by sales of discounted homes that had been foreclosed as well as by a federal $8,000 tax credit for home buyers set to expire at the end of November.

"This market may be closer to normal than it was a half-year ago, but it's still out of kilter," said John Walsh, DataQuick's president. "The sales mix is still lopsided, tilting toward the low end, and lending institutions are only making really safe mortgage loans."

The percentage of foreclosed homes sold has been declining. Statewide, 42% of homes sold in September had been foreclosed within the previous 12 months, DataQuick said. In February, such homes hit a peak of 59% of sales.

In the Bay Area, 33% of homes sold in September had been foreclosed in the previous year, down from a high of 52% in February.

Those trends track with Southern California's September sales, which DataQuick reported Tuesday. The median sales price in Southern California last month was $275,000, unchanged from August, and the total of homes sold, 21,539, was roughly even with August and up 5% from a year ago.

Foreclosures as a percentage of sales also declined: 40% of Southern California homes sold in September were foreclosed in the previous 12 months, down from a high of 57% in February.

Even if foreclosures no longer constitute most sales, they continue to define the market because all sellers need to compete with those low-priced properties, said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Assn. of Realtors. "They're in the same marketplace, in the same communities," she said of foreclosed homes sold alongside those offered for sale by individuals or home builders.

Appleton-Young said higher-priced homes also have more room to decline in price than the lowest-priced homes.

"Certainly at the upper end, prices could continue to soften a bit as we go forward. Foreclosures at the high end are starting to accelerate with white-collar job losses," she said.

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peter.hong@latimes.com

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