CAR: Home prices up, sales down

Unsold inventory falls to 5.8 months

Median home prices increased 15 percent year-over-year in January, according to a report by the California Association of Realtors.

Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes fell 10.6 percent year-over-year, to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 539,040 units, and fell 3 percent month-to-month, the report said.

Home prices increased to $287,440 in January compared to the revised $249,960 median for January 2009; they fell 6.3 percent month-to-month, the report said.

"Many sales that closed escrow in January were on homes with offers accepted during the holiday season — a time when many house hunters are first-time buyers," said Steve Goddard, the association’s president.

"First-time buyers typically purchase homes priced below an area’s median home price. Reflecting this, the percentage of homes priced under $500,000 increased to 77 percent of all sales in January, compared with 75 percent in December.

"Despite the year-to-year decline, sales remained above the 500,000 unit threshold for the 17th consecutive month, holding steady at pre-peak levels from early in the last decade."

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Unsold inventory dipped to 5.8 months last month from 7.2 months in January of 2009, the report said. The inventory rate reflects the number of months it would take to exhaust the current supply of homes at the current sales pace. An inventory of six months reflects an equilibrium between a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, with a lower inventory indicating a seller’s market. 

Inventory of homes at all price points has fallen since January 2009. For homes over $1 million, inventory dipped dramatically year-over-year (45 percent), to 14.8 months from 26.9 months. For homes between $750,000 and $1 million, inventory fell even more (49 percent), to 8.1 months from 15.9 months.

For homes between $500,000 and $750,000, inventory fell from 9 months in January 2009 to 6.2 months in January 2010. For those between $300,000 and $500,000, it’s down to 5.6 months from 6.5 months. For homes less than $300,000, it’s down to 5.1 months from 6.2 months.

Homes typically spent 33.9 days on market last month, down from a revised 50 days in January 2009.

Regionally, San Francisco Bay Area home prices have recovered the most from their trough in 2009, up 21.8 percent, to $486,190 from $399,040 in February 2009. The Monterey region is next with a 20.5 percent recovery, to $290,620 from a trough of $241,130 last February.

The Sacramento area has increased the least from its trough price in April 2009, up 4.5 percent to $174,830 from $167,340, followed by the San Luis Obispo region, which rose 8.7 percent, to $367,650 from $338,160 in April.

The increase for California as a whole was 17.2 percent, to $287,440 from $245,170 last February.

The association based the report on data gathered from more than 90 local Realtor associations statewide.

In a separate report, DataQuick Information Systems, which provides real estate information based on public records rather than multiple listing service data, released median home prices by county.

Santa Barbara County saw the biggest year-over-year percentages increase, up 23 percent, to $300,000 from $244,000 in January 2009. Contra Costa County saw the second biggest increase (14.8 percent), to $252,500 from $220,000.

Madera County saw the steepest year-over-year decline, -19.7 percent, to $124,500 from $155,000. Shasta County saw the second biggest drop, -15.7 percent, to $177,000 from $210,000.

San Francisco County had the state’s highest median home price, which rose 12.3 percent from January 2009 to $629,000 from $560,000 for the same month last year.

Merced County had the state’s lowest median home price, which stayed flat at $115,000.

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