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Southland housing market remains muted in March

The month's unremarkable sales figures could portend a lackluster year for the industry.

April 14, 2011|By Alejandro Lazo, Los Angeles Times

Southern California's housing market lacked vitality in March, a sign that the year could be lackluster for the region's housing market as shoppers stay on the sidelines despite high affordability.

The median price of a home in the Southland was $280,500 in March, a 2% increase from February and a decline of 1.6% from March 2010, according to DataQuick of San Diego.

Sales were down 5.2% from March 2010 to 19,412 new and previously owned homes and condos. That tally represented a 35.1% increase from February, though sales typically jump from February to March.

Sales so far this year are 20% below average. March sales of newly built Southland homes totaled 1,144, the lowest for a month in DataQuick's statistics, which go back to 1988.

"As an indicator of upcoming trends, the month of March is actually pretty reliable," DataQuick president John Walsh said. "We got off to a slow start with sales this year, and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon."

Sales of foreclosed homes made up 36.4% of the resale market last month, down from a revised 37% in February and 38.3% in March 2010.

Short sales, in which banks allow properties to be sold for less than the balance on their mortgages, made up an estimated 18.5% of the resale market, down from 19.6% in February but up from 18% in March 2010.

"The foreclosure issue is going to be with us for a good while," Walsh said. "But mortgage availability, or rather the lack thereof, is key."

The mortgage market has been "fussy," DataQuick said. In addition, slow job growth and uncertainty among buyers and sellers is holding back the housing recovery, according to the real estate information service.

alejandro.lazo@latimes.com

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