Southern California home sales fell to their lowest level in four years as price increases eased back another notch, a real estate information service reported today.

A total of 28,952 new and resale homes were sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was up 4.8 percent from 27,637 in November, and down 4.5 percent from 30,317 for December last year, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

A decline from November to December is normal for the season. Last month’s sales count was the lowest for any December since 24,913 homes were sold in December 2001. The Inland Empire bucked the regional trend and posted sales increases last month, led in part by record-breaking sales of newly built homes.

“The frenzied part of this real estate cycle is behind us and what we’re seeing so far is a normalizing of the market. Mid-market and entry-level homes are selling well, the move-up and prestige markets are leveling off. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out between now and spring, ” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president, in a statement.

The median price paid for a Southern California home was $479,000 last month, the same as November’s record high. That was up 13 percent from $424,000 for December 2004. The year-over-year increase was the lowest since March 2002 when the $257,000 median was up 12.7 percent. Year-over-year price increases peaked in May 2004 at 26.9 percent.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Southland buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,255 last month, up from $2,238 for the previous month, and up from $1,869 for December a year ago. Adjusted for inflation, current payments are about 2.6 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. Foreclosure activity is edging up from its bottom, but is still low.

Down payment sizes are stable, as are flipping rates and non-owner occupied buying activity, DataQuick reported.

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