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California home sales expected to fall in 2010

Alex Veiga
AP Real Estate Writer

Los Angeles — Home sales in California are expected to dip next year, bucking the national trend, as unemployment and the loss of a tax incentive for homebuyers weigh on the country’s largest housing market, according to a real estate group.

The California Association of Realtors’ 2010 housing market forecast calls for home sales to slow by 2.3 percent from a projected 540,000 homes this year to 527,000 next year.

California home sales bottomed in late 2007 at 346,900 units, but have rebounded since then, fueled by cheap foreclosed homes and a federal tax credit.

First-time buyers can save up to $8,000 in taxes if they buy before the end of November. Real estate agents, homebuilders and others are lobbying Congress to extend the credit into next year, but it is unclear if lawmakers want to continue to subsidize the market.

The loss of the tax incentive coupled with rising unemployment — already above 12 percent in California — will put some potential buyers back on the sidelines, said Leslie Appleton-Young, the association’s chief economist.

“Those two things might dull the prospect for sales a little bit,” Appleton-Young said. “But the drop is very modest and you’re still looking at a robust level of sales.”

According to the association’s projections, the median will hit $280,000, up 3.3 percent from the projected 2009 median of $271,000, but down dramatically from the peak of $560,300 two years ago.

Rising prices should be good news to sellers, but prices vary widely from the statewide median, depending on the market and price range.

Coastal areas such as San Francisco have experienced more moderate price declines compared with inland regions, where foreclosures have helped drive down prices by double-digits.

Many lenders have put a moratorium on foreclosures, causing a drop in the number of discounted, bank-owned properties hitting the market this year. Some economists expect that wave of foreclosed properties could hit the market next year, dampening home prices again.

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