The rate of single-family home sales plummeted 20.8 percent while home prices rose 3.2 percent in March compared to the same month last year, the California Association of Realtors trade group reported today.

The condo sales rate dropped 13.5 percent while condo prices rose 1.2 percent year-over-year in March.

The median price of an existing, single-family detached home in the state in March was $580,090, while the median price of an existing condo was $435,770.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate for closed-escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in the state totaled 427,110 in March, according to information collected by the state Realtor group from about 90 local Realtor associations. This rate is a projection of a monthly sales total over a 12-month period, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in sales activity.

“March sales fell below the levels of recent months in reaction to an uptick in mortgage rates earlier this year along with tighter underwriting standards. The year-to-year decline in March was larger than in recent months in part because sales in March 2006 were the strongest in all of last year,” said Colleen Badagliacco, CAR president, in a statement.

“Recent news regarding foreclosures and the subprime situation had an adverse impact on the market psychology of many buyers, leading some to delay their home-purchase decisions.”

The median time on market for for-sale properties dropped below 60 days for the first time since October 2006 while the inventory continued to rise, which is “a sign of price softness in the coming months,” stated Leslie Appleton-Young, CAR vice president.

The trade group’s Unsold Inventory Index for existing, single-family detached homes in March was 8.7 months, compared with 4.7 months in March 2006. 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 6.16 percent during March compared with 6.32 percent in March 2006, according to Freddie Mac, while adjustable-mortgage interest rates averaged 5.44 percent in March compared with 5.42 percent in March 2006.

The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home was 56.2 days in March, compared with 44.5 days (revised) for the same period a year ago, the association announced.

According to regional sales data collected from dozens of Realtor associations — which is not seasonally adjusted — median home prices dropped most in North Santa Barbara County (down 11.8 percent), Northern California (down 9.9 percent), and San Luis Obispo (down 6.1 percent) from March 2006 to March 2007.

Meanwhile, median prices increased most in Santa Barbara County (14.2 percent), Santa Clara (9.2 percent) and the San Francisco Bay (5.6 percent) regions.

A separate report that covers local statistics generated by the Realtor group and research company DataQuick Information Systems found that 36.4 percent, or 140 out of 385 cities and communities, showed an increase in their respective median home prices in March compared to March 2006. DataQuick statistics are based on county records data rather than MLS information.

Statewide, the 10 cities and communities with the largest median home-price increases in March 2007 compared with the same period a year ago were: Union City, at 26.5 percent; Berkeley, 23.8 percent; Culver City, 22.2 percent; Los Angeles, 17.9 percent; San Rafael, 17.8 percent; Hawthorne, 15.6 percent; West Hollywood, 14.6 percent; Claremont, 14.4 percent; Morgan Hill, 14 percent; and Laguna Niguel, 13.9 percent.

The 10 cities and communities with the largest drop in median price in March compared to the same month last year are: Brentwood, down 39 percent; Ripon, down 29.3 percent; Millbrae, down 28.4 percent; Aptos, down 25.9 percent; Westside, down 25.8 percent; Burlingame, down 23.8 percent; Galt, down 21.7 percent; Half Moon Bay, down 21.5 percent; National City, down 21.2 percent; and La Mesa, down 20.9 percent.

The 10 cities and communities with the highest median home prices in California during March 2007 were Los Altos, $1.66 million; Manhattan Beach, $1.61 million; Saratoga, $1.57 million; Newport Beach, $1.4 million; Burlingame, $1.31 million; Santa Barbara, $1.1 million; Los Gatos, $1.08 million; Lafayette, $1.05 million; Rancho Palos Verdes, $1.04 million; and Danville, $1.03 million.

And the 10 cities and communities with the lowest median prices in March were: Twentynine Palms, $163,500; Joshua Tree, $171,000; Barstow, $176,000; Ridgecrest, $194,000; Delano, $215,000; Porterville, Crestline and Yucca Valley, all $220,000; and California City, $225,000.

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