The sales rate of existing single-family homes dropped 15.1 percent while the median price of an existing home in California increased 13 percent in March compared to March 2005, the California Association of Realtors reported today.

The statewide sales figure is a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal factors that can influence home sales.

Condo sales dropped 23 percent from March 2005 to March 2006, while condo prices increased 8.7 percent from March 2005 to March 2006 and dropped 0.4 percent from February 2006.

Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled 539,170 in March at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, according to information collected by C.A.R. from more than 90 local Realtor associations statewide. Statewide home resale activity decreased from the 634,700 sales pace recorded in March 2005, the trade group reported.

The median price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during March 2006 was $561,350, a 13 percent increase over the revised $496,890 median for March 2005, C.A.R. reported, and the March 2006 median price increased 4.8 percent compared with February’s revised $535,480 median price.

The inventory of homes for sale fell from a 6.6 month supply in February to 4.8 months in March, said Leslie Appleton-Young, C.A.R. vice president and chief economist.

“Unsold inventory climbed significantly in the first two months of this year as listings increased and sales declined. Although the supply of homes for sale increased again in March, this was more than offset by a seasonal increase in sales, prompting a decrease in the unsold inventory index,” she said in a statement. “We expect the supply of homes relative to sales to decline gradually over the next few months, although inventory levels will likely remain higher than those of the last two years.”

C.A.R.also reported:

  • The association’s Unsold Inventory Index for existing, single-family detached homes in March 2006 was 4.8 months, compared with 2.2 months (revised) for the same period a year ago. The index indicates the number of months needed to deplete the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate.

  • Thirty-year fixed mortgage interest rates averaged 6.32 percent during March 2006, compared with 5.93 percent in March 2005, according to Freddie Mac. Adjustable mortgage interest rates averaged 5.42 percent in March 2006 compared with 4.23 percent in March 2005.

  • The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home was 44 days in March 2006, compared with 30 days (revised) for the same period a year ago.

In a separate report covering more localized statistics generated by C.A.R. and DataQuick Information Systems, 89.8 percent or 369 of 411 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. The DataQuick tables listing median home prices in California cities and counties are available online at http://www.car.org/index.php?id=MzYwNTQ=.

The association noted that some of the local variations in median home prices may be exaggerated due to compositional changes in housing demand.

  • Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the highest median home prices in California during March 2006 were: Laguna Beach, $1,827,000; Burlingame, $1,720,000; Beverly Hills, $1,665,000; Los Altos, $1,626,000; Manhattan Beach, $1,625,000; Newport Beach, $1,520,000; Coronado, $1,463,750; Saratoga, $1,391,000; Los Gatos, $1,300,000; Calabasas, $1,259,500.

  • Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the greatest median home price increases in March 2006 compared with the same period a year ago were: Reedley, 58.9 percent; Atwater, 52 percent; Twentynine Palms, 48.8 percent; Barstow, 45.7 percent; Beaumont, 45.6 percent; Taft, 44 percent; California City, 43.1 percent; Burlingame, 40.4 percent; Porterville, 40.3 percent; Highland, 36.8 percent.

  • Regionally, sales dropped 27.5 percent in the Orange County area from March 2005 to March 2006, 27.2 percent in the Sacramento area, 25.4 percent in the Monterey area, and 24 percent in the Central Valley area.  Prices dropped in 11 of 20 regions from February to March, and year-over-year price appreciation in March was slowest in Northern Santa Barbara County area (1.6 percent), and highest in the High Desert region (23.6 percent).

“March is the month in which we typically see the market gear up for peak season activity, and this year is no exception,” said C.A.R. President Vince Malta. “Seasonally adjusted statewide sales increased 4.9 percent compared with February and the statewide median rose 4.8 percent compared with the prior month. This is very similar to March 2005, when sales rose 4.4 percent month-to-month and the median price registered a 5.5 percent increase.

“Many buyers who had adopted a

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