Pending home sales were up 13.6 percent in California from December to January, with distressed properties accounting for more than half of pending transactions, according to a new index compiled by the California Association of Realtors.

CAR’s pending home sales index surveys more than 70 Realtor associations and multiple listing services, and uses 2008 sales levels as a benchmark. An index reading of 100 is equal to the average level of sales contract activity in 2008.

The index climbed to 93.6 in January, up from 82.4 in December but down 2 percent from a year ago, CAR said, noting that pending sales typically rise after seasonal slowdowns in November and December.

"January’s pending sales should be reflected in higher existing sales activity in February and March and serve as a precursor to the spring home buying season," CAR President Beth Peerce said in a statement.

Distressed properties — short sales and bank-owned (REO) properties — accounted for 54 percent of pending sales statewide, up from 50 percent in December but down from 56 percent a year ago.

Distressed properties accounted for 70 percent or more of all sales in Kern, Sacramento, Riverside, San Bernardino and Solano counties.

Share of Distressed Sales (selected counties) 

County/Region January 2010 December 2010 January 2011
California 56% 50% 54%
San Diego 34% 28% 33%
Marin 37% 34% 43%
Orange 41% 38% 43%
San Luis Obispo 49% 46% 47%
Los Angeles 54% 50% 54%
Mendocino 49% 57% 55%
Napa 68% 54% 59%
Sonoma 54% 55% 61%
Kern 69% 71% 70%
Sacramento 68% 66% 73%
Riverside 78% 67% 73%
San Bernardino 76% 72% 74%
Solano 76% 74% 81%

Source: California Association of Realtors


REO properties accounted for 32 percent of pending sales, up from 30 percent in January but down from 37 percent a year ago, CAR said.

Short sales, which accounted for 19 percent of pending sales in January 2010 and 20 percent of sales in December, represented 22 percent of last month’s pending sales.

CAR also released a chart illustrating the price stratification between conventional, short sale and REO properties.

Looking at all sales of single-family homes that closed escrow in January, the median price was $278,900 — down 8.6 percent from a revised $305,020 in December and down 2 percent from a year ago.

But at $265,500, the median price for short sales closing escrow in January was 28 percent less than the $367,150 median price for "conventional" properties. The median price for REO properties, at $198,000, was 46 percent less.

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