San Francisco Bay Area home sales remained at the lowest level in five years and monthly home sales were down, year-over-year, for the 11th straight month, a real estate information service reported today.

A total of 6,206 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county Bay Area region in February, which was up 3.4 percent since January but down 16.8 percent compared to February 2005, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

Normally, sales decline from January to February. Last year’s February was the strongest in DataQuick’s records, which go back to 1988, the company reported.

“We’ll know more about what’s going on once next month’s numbers come in. March sales have a more typical purchase pattern than February’s or January’s. Right now we don’t see anything ominous in the numbers, just a real estate cycle that is past the frenzy phase,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

The median price paid for a Bay Area home was $616,000 last month, a 1.5 percent gain since January, and up 12.2 percent from $549,000 in February 2005. The annual price increase was the lowest since prices rose 9.7 percent to $443,000 in January 2004. It’s probable that appreciation will dip into the single digits again this spring.

Sales dropped 35.8 percent Napa County from February 2005 to February 2006, and dropped 30.1 percent in Solano County, 19.2 percent in Alameda County and 18.9 percent in San Francisco County in that time.

Meanwhile, median home prices jumped 16.7 percent in Solano County, 16.6 percent in Contra Costa County and 14.5 percent in Santa Clara County at the high end of the scale, with the lowest price appreciation in Sonoma County at 4.6 percent, San Mateo and Napa counties at 4.7 percent and San Francisco County at 4.9 percent.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,889 in February. That was up from $2,798 in January, and up from $2,460 for February a year ago.

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

Indicators of market distress are still largely absent. The use of adjustable-rate mortgages has decreased significantly the last three months. “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 reported.

DataQuick, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, 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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