Existing-home sales dropped significantly in California in February, falling 15.5 percent from the same period a year ago, as inventory levels climbed and median prices continued to escalate, an industry trade group reported today.

Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled 513,745 in February at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, down from 608,160 a year ago, according to the California Association of Realtors. Median prices increased 13.7 percent to $535,470 from $470,920 a year ago.

Meanwhile, the February 2006 median price of an existing home in the state decreased 2.9 percent compared with January’s $551,300 median price.

The statewide sales figure represents what the total number of homes sold during 2006 would be if sales maintained the February pace throughout the year. It is adjusted to account for seasonal factors that typically influence home sales.

“Sales posted a slight increase last month compared with January 2006, as the downward drift in interest rates late last year caused an uptick in market activity,” said C.A.R. President Vince Malta. “As expected, year-over-year sales continued to decline from the robust levels of a year ago.”

Unsold inventory in February increased to a 6.7-month supply, one of the highest levels in several years, up from a 3.2-month supply a year ago.

The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home was 52 days in February 2006, compared with 40 days (revised) for the same period a year ago.

C.A.R. Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young said she expects to see declines in the pace of price appreciation this year.

“We expect the pace of price appreciation to slow from the 13 to 17 percent range of 2005 to 10 percent this year as rising inventory levels mitigate some of the upward pressure on home prices,” she said. “The higher-priced coastal areas will see price gains in the mid-single digits while the inland areas will see increases in excess of 10 percent.”

In a separate report covering more localized statistics generated by C.A.R. and DataQuick Information Systems, 92.1 percent or 337 of 366 cities and communities showed an increase in their respective median home prices from a year ago. DataQuick statistics are based on county records data rather than MLS information.

Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the highest median home prices in California during February 2006 were: Newport Beach, $1.3 million; Los Gatos, $1.1 million; Santa Barbara, $1.05 million; Cupertino, $923,500; San Clemente, $920,000; Dana Point, $880,000; Santa Monica, $879,000; San Juan Capistrano, $870,000; Danville, $862,500; and Yorba Linda, $795,000.

Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the greatest median home price increases in February 2006 compared with the same period a year ago were: Ridgecrest, 70.2 percent; Banning, 63 percent; San Juan Capistrano, 58.2 percent; Inglewood, 52.3 percent; Barstow, 51.8 percent; Twentynine Palms, 50.6 percent; Atwater, 48.4 percent; Santa Monica, 46.5 percent; Beaumont, 45.3 percent; and Porterville, 44.8 percent.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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