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California home prices start to stabilize

Jacob Adelman
AP Writer

Los Angeles — The median home price in Northern California increased nearly 5 percent last month from March, suggesting some parts of the region’s housing market could be stabilizing, a tracking firm said Thursday.

The increase marks a reversal of the steady month-to-month price declines in the region that have held since fall 2007, said MDA DataQuick, which also released separate figures marking a third consecutive month when the statewide median price declined by less than 1 percent.

“For the past few months we’ve seen faint but growing signs that would normally suggest many markets are nearing price stabilization,” said DataQuick President John Walsh, who cautioned that job losses and other factors could threaten a sustained recovery.

The statewide median price sank just 0.9 percent to $221,000 in April, from $223,000 in March. The average month-to-month decline for the 12 months ending in January, by comparison, was more than 4 percent.

“It does look like the housing market is bottoming out,” said Delores Conway, director of the Casden Forecast at the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate. “We’re not going to take off from here, but we will basically stabilize.”

April’s statewide median home price reflected a 38 percent plunge from the year-ago period, when the figure stood at $354,000.

In the Northern California region, last month’s median price was $304,000, up from $290,000 in March, but down 41 percent from the year-ago period when the figure stood at $518,000.

Avram Goldman, president and chief executive of San Francisco-based Pacific Union Real Estate, said he doesn’t expect any further declines in the less expensive inland Northern California counties that are seeing the most activity.

“The watermark is set for the lower end of the market,” he said. “The air is out of the balloon.”

Home sales in Northern California climbed 13 percent last month to 7,139 from 6,310 a year ago. The sales and medians were estimated for Alameda and San Mateo counties because of late data availability, but DataQuick spokesman Andrew LePage said the incomplete statistics were unlikely to substantially alter the firm’s calculations.

More than 47 percent of all Northern California sales last month involved foreclosed properties, DataQuick said, the lowest level for those sales since November. The declining foreclosure resales have helped flatten the median home price in the nine-county area.

In Southern California, the median home price fell 1.2 percent to $247,000 last month, down from $250,000 in March. LePage said the dip wasn’t a major deviation from median prices that have been mostly unchanged since January.

Home sales in the six-county region jumped more than 31 percent last month compared to the year-ago figure. Foreclosures accounted for almost 54 percent of April sales.

Stephanie Vitacco, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the San Fernando Valley, said she has been seeing properties sell quickly, often with multiple prospective buyers bidding up the

price.But she said markets were still turbulent, citing Southland Regional Association of Realtors figures showing more than 1,800 prospective buyers opening escrow in the San Fernando Valley in March, but only about 1,100 closing.

She said some purchases fall through because banks remain reluctant to extend credit, while others are not completed because jittery buyers back out or demand too much of sellers late in the transaction.

“In many cases as a real estate agent, I am having to resell the same house 2 or 3 times before it’s closing,” she said.

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