Sales of San Francisco Bay Area homes dropped last month to the lowest level in five years as price increases continued to ease back, according to a report by DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service. It was the 10th month in a row of year-over-year sales declines.

The January sales count was the lowest for any month since January 2001 when 5,977 homes were sold.

A total of 6,004 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county region last month. That was down 35.8 percent from 9,347 for December, and down 20 percent from 7,509 for January last year, DataQuick reported.

A decline from December to January is normal for the season, the company reported.

“We won’t know for another couple of months if this is a lull in the market or part of a longer-term downturn. It’s always difficult to project from trends we see in January and February. The March numbers will tell us much more about what’s going on,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

The median price paid for a Bay Area home was $607,000 last month. That was down 0.3 percent from December’s $609,000, and up 13.7 percent from $534,000 for January a year ago. The annual price increase was the lowest since prices rose 13.1 percent to $474,000 in March 2004. It’s probable that appreciation will dip into the single digits during the next month or two, DataQuick also reported.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,798 in January. That was down from $2,867 in December, but up from $2,344 for January a year ago.

Adjusted for inflation, mortgage payments are 13 percent higher than they were at the peak of the prior cycle 16 years ago.

Indicators of market distress are still largely absent.

Foreclosure rates are coming up from last year’s low point, but are still below normal levels. Down payment sizes are stable and there have been no significant shifts in market mix, DataQuick also noted.

A subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

Source: DataQuick

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