Southern California Home Sales, Median Sale Price Edge Lower

February 15, 2011

La Jolla, CA---Southland homes sold at the slowest pace for a January in three years – and the second-slowest in 15 – amid record-low new-home sales, tight credit, and a persistent reluctance among would-be buyers. The median sale price dipped slightly from a year ago but fell more than usual from December as investors and others targeting lower-cost properties accounted for a larger share of sales, a real estate information service reported.

Last month 14,458 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties. That was down 26.0 percent from 19,528 in December, and down 5.9 percent from 15,361 in January 2010, according to DataQuick Information Systems of San Diego.

A December-to-January sales drop is normal for the season, with the decline averaging 28.3 percent since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin.

The total number of homes sold last month was the lowest for a January since 2008, when 9,983 sold, and the second-lowest since 1996. Last month’s sales fell 18.8 percent below the average January sales tally of 17,802.

January new-home sales were the lowest for any month in DataQuick’s records back to 1988. Builders have struggled to compete with prices on resale homes, especially distressed properties.

But what’s proven the bane of the building industry has fueled a boom among investors, who appeared to be as active as ever last month.

Absentee buyers – mostly investors and some second-home purchasers – bought a record 24.8 percent of the homes sold in January, paying a median $198,500. Over the last decade, absentee buyers purchased a monthly average of about 16 percent of all Southland homes.

Buyers who appeared to have paid all cash – meaning there was no indication that a corresponding purchase loan was recorded – accounted for a near-record 29.5 percent of January sales, paying a median $190,000. So far, the peak for cash sales was 30.1 percent last February. The 10-year monthly average for Southland homes purchased with cash is about 13 percent.

“Last month was sort of a flashback to January last year: Sales were lousy, but many investors and others looking for bargains stayed active. They kept working the distress-heavy, lower-cost markets through the holidays, which translated into a relatively high level of investor and cash deals closing last month. It helps explain the larger-than-usual, month-to-month dip in the median sale price,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

“Once again, we’re seeing data that tells us as much about who’s not buying as who is buying,” he added. “Lots of potential buyers continue to hold back, waiting for a sign prices have bottomed, that their jobs are safe, or that loans are easier to get. Meanwhile, plenty of potential sellers are still waiting for a stronger market. Some could technically sell now but can’t swallow the perceived loss in value compared with the market’s peak. Others are ‘upside down,’ owing more than their homes are worth, and can’t afford to budge until prices climb again.”

The median price paid for a Southland home last month was $270,000, down 6.9 percent from $290,000 in December, and down 0.6 percent from $271,500 in January 2010. It was the median’s lowest level since it was $268,000 in July 2009. Last month’s year-over-year decline in the median was the first since October 2009, when the median fell 6.7 percent, to $280,000.

The median’s low point for the current real estate cycle was $247,000 in April 2009, while the high point was $505,000 in mid 2007. The peak-to-trough drop was due to a decline in home values as well as a shift in sales toward low-cost homes, especially inland foreclosures.

At the county level last month, the overall median sale price fell on a year-over-year basis in Los Angeles (-7.7 percent), Orange (-2.4 percent), Riverside (-2.6 percent), San Diego (-0.3 percent) and Ventura (-2.8 percent) counties, while San Bernardino County recorded a modest 1.0 percent gain.

The median price for the largest home-type category – resale single-family detached houses – fell year-over-year last month in Los Angeles (-4.6 percent) and Orange (-2.0 percent) counties. The other four counties recorded year-over-year changes ranging from 0.0 percent to a gain of 1.9 percent.

Foreclosure resales – homes foreclosed on in the past year – accounted for 37.0 percent of the resale market last month, up from 35.1 percent in December but down from 42.1 percent a year ago. Over the past year, foreclosure resales hit a low of 32.8 percent last June and have generally trended higher each month since then. The peak for foreclosure resales was 56.7 percent in February 2009, DataQuick reported.

Government-insured FHA loans, a popular low-down-payment choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 33.2 percent of all mortgages used to purchase homes in January – the lowest level since October 2008, when 32.6 percent of purchase loans were FHA. Last month’s FHA level was down from 33.5 percent in December and 35.0 percent in January 2010. Two years ago FHA loans made up 38.9 percent of the purchase loan market, while three years ago it was just 3.9 percent.

Last month 17.7 percent of all sales were for $500,000 or more, down from 20.8 percent in December and down from 18.9 percent a year earlier. The low point for $500,000-plus sales was in January 2009, when only 13.6 percent of sales crossed that threshold. Over the past decade, a monthly average of 26.8 percent of homes sold for $500,000 or more.

Viewed differently, Southland zip codes in the top one-third of the housing market, based on historical prices, accounted for 33.2 percent of total sales last month. That was down from 36.0 percent in December but up slightly from 32.5 percent a year ago. Over the last decade, those higher-end areas contributed a monthly average of 37.1 percent of regional sales. Their contribution to overall sales hit a low of 26.2 percent in January 2009.

High-end sales still suffer from tight credit policies. Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) and so-called jumbo home loans have been relatively difficult to get ever since the credit crunch hit in August 2007.

Last month ARMs represented 7.0 percent of Southland purchase loans, up from 6.4 percent in December and 4.4 percent a year ago. Over the past decade, a monthly average of about 38 percent of purchase loans were ARMs.

Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 14.6 percent of last month’s purchase lending, down from 16.7 percent in December and up slightly from 14.2 percent a year earlier. However, in the months leading up to the credit crisis that struck in August 2007, jumbos accounted for 40 percent of the market.

Last month the percentage of Southland homes bought and re-sold on the open market within a six-month period was 3.1 percent, down from a “flipping” rate of 3.5 percent in December and 3.6 percent a year earlier. Flipping varied last month from as little as 2.2 percent in Riverside County to as much as 3.4 percent in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

DataQuick Information Systems monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Southland buyers committed themselves to paying was $1,128 last month, down from $1,205 in December and down from $1,170 in January 2010. Adjusted for inflation, current payments are 49.8 percent below typical payments in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. They are 58.9 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007.

Indicators of market distress continue to move in different directions. Foreclosure activity remains high by historical standards but is lower than peak levels reached over the last two years. Financing with multiple mortgages is very low, and down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.


Sales Volume Median Price
All homes Jan-10 Jan-11 %Chng Jan-10 Jan-11 %Chng
Los Angeles    5,228 4,908 -6.10% $325,000 $300,000 -7.70%
Orange         1,867 1,929 3.30% $425,000 $415,000 -2.40%
Riverside      3,162 2,738 -13.40% $195,000 $190,000 -2.60%
San Bernardino 2,252 2,085 -7.40% $150,000 $151,500 1.00%
San Diego      2,322 2,248 -3.20% $305,000 $304,000 -0.30%
Ventura        530 550 3.80% $360,000 $350,000 -2.80%
SoCal          15,361 14,458 -5.90% $271,500 $270,000 -0.60%

Source: Media calls: Andrew LePage (916) 456-7157

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