Although February home sales across Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area picked up from January, they posted huge declines from a year ago and median prices tumbled.

According to real estate information service DataQuick, home sales last month in the six-county Southern California region limped along at the slowest pace ever for a February — with just 10,777 new and resale houses and condos changing hands. That’s a 39 percent decrease from the 17,680 sales reported in February 2007, but an 8 percent jump from 9,983 sales in January 2008.

The median price paid for a home in the region, which comprises Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, fell to $408,000 last month, down a record 17.6 percent from $495,000 a year ago.

The sharp decline in the median reflects two things: depreciation, especially in areas rife with foreclosures, and a substantial shift in the types of homes selling, DataQuick reported. Most notable in recent months is the big drop-off in sales of more expensive homes financed with "jumbo" mortgages, which are loans of $417,000 or more.

In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, the 3,989 home sales in February were up 11.2 percent from January but were down 36.7 percent from 6,305 sales a year ago.

"The lending system has been in lockdown mode the last half-year, especially when it comes to so-called jumbo mortgages, which have traditionally been the majority of Bay Area loans," DataQuick President Marshall Prentice said in a prepared statement. "Sure, there are price declines out there, especially in inland markets. But it’s not realistic to think many sellers are going to drop a $600,000 or $700,000 asking price down to $550,000 just so a buyer can finance with a conforming loan.

"We can only conclude that a lot of activity is just on hold, hence the spectacularly low sales counts," Prentice said.

Last month’s median home price across the Bay Area dipped to $548,000, down from $550,000 in January and down 11.6 percent from $620,000 a year earlier.

According to DataQuick, February’s median price would have been closer to $600,000 if the availability of jumbo home loans had remained stable. A year ago, jumbo loans accounted for 59.8 percent of all Bay Area home loans; last month, that share had shrunk to 28.9 percent.


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