Most cities and counties in California experienced a drop in median home prices in December compared to the same month in 2005, according to data on new and existing condo and single-family home sales.

Existing single-family home sales in the state fell 15.3 percent in December compared to December 2005, the California Association of Realtors reported today.

Total existing single-family home sales were down 23.6 percent for the full year in 2006 compared to the prior year, according to preliminary C.A.R. statistics, which is the lowest level in 10 years. There were an estimated 477,330 sales in 2006, according to the preliminary statistics, which is the 11th-highest level on record dating back to 1970 and is the lowest annual sales total since 1997, when 446,700 sales were recorded.

While the market was expected to slow in 2006, the drop in sales “was one of the larger declines that we have seen,” said Robert Kleinhenz, deputy chief economist for the association. A 7 percent decline in sales is forecast for the state in 2007, and sales are expected to rebound in 2008. “With the economy climbing as it did, there is really no reason to expect major distress in housing,” he said.

The preliminary statewide median price for the full year in 2006 was $556,330, up 6.4 percent compared to 2005. this is the first single-digit gain in median price in the state since 2001.

Based on statistics compiled by DataQuick Information Systems, median price dropped in 18 counties in the state while rising in 13 counties in December compared to the same month in 2005, and median price fell in about 53 percent of city areas tracked by DataQuick while falling in about 46 percent of the cities and remaining flat in 1 percent of the cities.

The median price dropped more than 10 percent in 40 cities and three counties in the state while rising more than 10 percent in 32 cities in December 2006 compared to December 2005, according to the DataQuick statistics.

Yolo County had a drop in median price of 16.8 percent in December 2006 compared to the previous year’s December, followed by a drop of 15.7 percent in Placer County, a 13.2 percent drop in Merced County, a 9 .7 percent drop in El Dorado County and a 9 percent drop in Sacramento County.

Median price gained 6.1 percent in Los Angeles County, 5.3 percent in Tulare and San Bernardino counties, and 5.1 percent in Nevada County and 4.8 percent in Riverside County in December 2006 compared to December 2005.

Among cities tracked by DataQuick, median price was down 32.4 percent in West Sacramento (a city in Yolo County) in December 2006 compared to December 2005, and fell 25.8 percent in Tarzana and La Jolla, 23.8 percent in Cupertino and 22.3 percent in Byron.

Cities with the highest gains in median price from December 2005 to December 2006 include San Juan Capistrano at 80 percent, Laguna Niguel at 50.6 percent, Encino at 41.3 percent, Ladera Ranch at 35.7 percent and Taft at 28.3 percent.

Overall in the state, the median price of a California single-family home increased 3.7 percent in December 2006 to $567,690 when compared to December 2005 and the median price of a condo in the state dropped 2.5 percent. Condo sales dropped 18.1 percent in December 2006 compared to the same month in 2005.

C.A.R. also reported that the Unsold Inventory Index for existing, single-family detached homes in December 2006 was 6.8 months, compared with a revised figure of 3.5 months for December 2005. The index indicates the number of months needed to deplete the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate.

It took a median 73 days in December 2006 to sell a single-family home, compared with a revised total of 43 days in December 2005.

“The market continues to level out as buyers and sellers search for common ground in today’s more balanced environment,” said Colleen Badagliacco, C.A.R. president, in a statement. “The number of homes for sale peaked in June and July and has since edged downward. Although time on the market remains higher than it was a year ago, competitively priced homes continue to sell well.”

Thirty-year fixed-mortgage interest rates averaged 6.14 percent in December 2006, compared with 6.27 percent in December 2005, according to Freddie Mac. And adjustable-mortgage interest rates averaged 5.45 percent in December 2006, compared with 5.17 percent in December 2005, according to the report.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled 450,550 in December, compared to the 531,910 sales pace recorded in December 2005. The statewide sales figure represents what the total number of homes sold during 2006 would be if sales maintained the December pace for a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in sales activity.

“Year-over-year sales declined in most regions last month, albeit at a lesser pace then what we experienced earlier this year,” said C.A.R. Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young in a statement. “The price picture across the state continues to be mixed. Increases were strongest in urban areas that experienced relatively less new-home building or strong economic growth in recent years. Prices were weakest where there has been robust home-building activity or in those areas of the state that were popular with second-home buyers.”

The DataQuick tables listing median home prices in California cities and counties are available online at http://www.car.org/index.php?id=MzcwNDg.

Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the highest median home prices in California during December 2006 include: Los Altos, $1.5 million; Burlingame, $1.33 million; Manhattan Beach, $1.28 million; San Juan Capistrano, $1.17 million; Santa Barbara, $1.01 million; Danville, $995,000; Los Gatos, $970,000; Rancho Palos Verdes, $947,500; San Clemente, $916,000; and Santa Monica, $833,000.

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