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SoCal home prices up 21%; February sales volume hits 6-year high

March 13, 2013|By Andrew Khouri
  • Southern California saw home prices up sharply in February from a year earlier. Above, a home for sale in Compton.
Southern California saw home prices up sharply in February from a year earlier.… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Southern California once again saw strong home price increases last month as the percentage of absentee buyers hit a record high and cash buyers remained a dominant force.

The six-county Southland saw the median home price rise nearly 21% over the year, while remaining essentially flat compared with January, real estate information provider DataQuick said Wednesday.

A total of 15,945 new and resale homes and condos sold in February — the highest volume for a February in six years. Buyers in Southern California paid a median of $320,000 last month as fewer homes sold in lower-cost Riverside and San Bernardino counties that have become a haven for investors looking to flip or rent out houses.

Southern California's housing recovery: An interactive map

“Most every gauge shows prices are up significantly over the past year, even after adjusting for changes in the types of homes selling,” DataQuick President John Walsh said in a statement.

Still, last month's median price was still well off the 2007 peak of $505,000, Walsh noted.

The median sales price is the point at which half of homes sold for more and half sold for less; it is influenced by the types of homes selling as well as a general rise or fall in values.

Home prices have been on the rise as inventory has tightened significantly and interest rates have remained low. Investors have scooped up many low-priced and bank-owned properties to rent or flip and foreclosures have made up a declining share of homes sold.

Foreclosed homes were 15.8% of the resale market last month, down from 32.6% a year earlier.

Absentee buyers — chiefly investors, along with some second-home buyers — accounted for 31.4% of home sales in February, the highest figure since DataQuick began tracking the figure in 2000. Buyers paying with cash purchased a near-record 35.6% of homes.

Data from the previous two months shows investors playing a major role, Walsh said. But that may be influenced some by the holiday house-hunting season, which tends to skew the buyer pool more toward investors.

“March and April will offer a better view of how broader market trends are shaping up this year,” Walsh said. ”One of the real wild cards will be how many more homes go up for sale. More people who've long been thinking of selling will be tempted to list their homes at today's higher prices.”

As prices rise, more homeowners will escape their negative equity positions, allowing them to sell their homes and potentially loosening supply. “A meaningful rise in the supply of homes on the market should at least tame price appreciation,” Walsh said. 

All counties — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura — saw significant price increases. 

Orange County saw the most dramatic price gains as the county’s median sales price rose 22.3% to $477,000.  In Los Angeles County, the median sales price rose 17.1% — a sizable jump, but the smallest of the region. Buyers there shelled out a median of $350,000.

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