Home prices in Southern California edged up to a new record in February, as sales fell to their lowest level in five years, a real estate information service reported.

The median price paid for a home in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties was $480,000 last month. That was up 2.3 percent from $469,000 in January and up 12.9 percent from $425,000 for February a year ago, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

The previous record of $479,000 was set in November (and December). Last month’s year-over-year price increase of 12.9 percent was the lowest since March 2002 when prices rose 12.7 percent to $257,000 from $228,000 a year earlier.

“It’s numbers like these that both bubble-theorists and market cheerleaders can pounce on to make their points,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president. “Reality is more mundane. The frenzy is behind us, we’re in a new phase of the real estate cycle and what remains to be seen is how this cycle’s end game will play out. We’ll know much more when next month’s figures are in.”

A total of 19,905 new and resale Southland homes were sold last month. That was down 0.9 percent from 20,085 in January, and down 7 percent from 21,394 for February last year.

A decline from January to February is normal for the season, DataQuick reported. Last month’s sales count was the lowest for any February since 2001 when 18,040 homes were sold. The strongest February in DataQuick’s statistics was in 2004 when 23,004 homes were sold; the weakest was in 1991 when 10,025 homes were sold.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Southland buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,251 last month, up from $2,162 for the previous month, and up from $1,905 for February a year ago. Adjusted for inflation, current payments are about 2.7 percent above typical payments in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle.

Indicators of market distress are still largely absent, DataQuick reported, and foreclosure activity is edging up from its bottom, but is still low. Financing with adjustable-rate mortgages has dropped significantly during the last three months. Down payment sizes are stable, as are flipping rates and non-owner-occupied buying activity, DataQuick reported.

DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.


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