San Francisco Bay Area home prices were nearly flat in December and the sales pace for that month was the slowest in a decade, according to a report by real estate research firm DataQuick Information Systems.

DataQuick reported 7,488 new and existing home and condo sales in December, up 3.9 percent compared to November and down 19.9 percent compared to December 2005.

Sales have declined on a year-over-year basis for the past 21 months, DataQuick reported, and December sales were the lowest for that month since December 1996, when 7,180 homes were sold. The average December sales total since 1988 is 8,339.

“Clearly the market is in a lull while potential buyers wait for lower prices,” stated Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

“Because of seasonal factors prices may edge down during the next two months, but are likely to move up again in spring. An important factor is whether or not mortgage interest rates stay where they are. If they do, we should expect the market to pick up in March or April.”

The median price paid for a Bay Area home was $612,000 in December, down 0.6 percent from November and up 0.5 percent compared to December 2005. The median peaked at $644,000 in June.

The median price dropped 6.3 percent in Sonoma County, 5.1 percent in Solano County, 1.2 percent in San Mateo County, and 0.2 percent in Contra Costa County in December compared to the same month last year, while rising 3.6 percent in San Francisco, 3.1 percent in Marin County, 2.4 percent in Napa County, 1.7 percent in Alameda County, and 0.9 percent in Santa Clara County.

Home sales dropped 27 percent in Napa County, 23.9 percent in Solano County, 22.6 percent in Alameda County, 21.9 percent in San Francisco, 20.6 percent in Contra Costa County, 19.8 percent in San Mateo County, 17.2 percent in Santa Clara County, 13.9 percent in Sonoma County and 13.4 percent in Marin County in December compared to December 2005.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,801 in December, down from $2,872 in November and $2,943 in December 2005. This amount peaked at $3,183 in June, DataQuick reported. Adjusted for inflation, mortgage payments are 10.3 percent above the peak of the prior cycle in early 1990.

“Indicators of market distress are still in the normal range. Financing with adjustable-rate mortgages is flat. Foreclosure activity is rising but is still in the normal range. Down-payment sizes are stable. Flipping rates and non-owner-occupied buying activity are down,” DataQuick reported.

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