More Sales, Higher Prices May Indicate Shift in California Housing Market

The housing market in California showed rising sales and prices in May, indicating a possible shift in local areas. Home sales in Southern California rose in higher-priced areas, while sales are accelerating in San Francisco. The monthly rate of mortgage defaults and subsequent level of foreclosures also drew back last month. As discounted bargains dried up in SoCal’s lower-cost inland areas, sales migrated to higher-priced coastal neighborhoods over the past year, according to San Diego-based real estate information provider MDA DataQuick. A total 22,270 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in May in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties. It marked a 9.7% increase from the month before and a 7.2% increase from the same time a year earlier. Tax incentives and low mortgage rates fed sales in mid- to high-end areas, where sellers have become more motivated over the last year, MDA said. The median sales price in SoCal jumped $20,000, or 7%, from April to $305,000. The median sales price, which topped $300,000 for the first time in 20 months, is now 22.5% higher than the same time last year. “Last month’s jump in the regional median sale price is the flipside of what we saw a year ago, when low-cost inland foreclosures dominated and sales in the costlier coastal towns struggled for a pulse,” said MDA DataQuick president John Walsh. “Today the bargains on foreclosures are fewer and farther between, and the high-end is approaching a normal sales rate.” Walsh added: “The important thing to remember, though, is that what we saw in May was partly driven by government stimulus. In the second half of the year the market will have to stand on its own again, barring new forms of government involvement. Prices will be tested if there’s any sudden move by lenders to release a flood of distressed properties.” North along the Californian coast, the San Francisco housing market is seeing a bit of its own revival. Home sales activity is accelerating, working inventory down from historic highs, according to the San Francisco Association of Realtors. “As closed sales activity has rebounded, sellers have regained some leverage in negotiations,” says Association president John Lee, in a statement. “Prices at the low-end of the market are stable while pricing volatility in higher-priced segments remains.” The median single-family home price rose slightly on a yearly basis to $752,500 in May. Despite the relatively flat appreciation, pricing conditions appear stable, according to the Rosen Consulting Group, a California-based real estate and regional economics research consulting firm. “Rising housing affordability, driven by attractive pricing and low mortgage rates combined with a more optimistic view of the economy assisted by government incentives have brought buyers back to the market,” the Rosen Consulting Group said in a statement. “Recognizing the shifting market conditions, sellers who have been waiting for more favorable market conditions to place their homes on the market should begin to do so in coming months.” Write to Diana Golobay.

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