Southern California home sales shot up last month from February amid the usual surge in late-winter shopping, but the gain over a year earlier was modest. Sales of $500,000-plus homes, though a bit lower than last year, jumped 36 percent from February, helping to lift the region’s overall median sale price to a six-month high – and to about where it was in March 2011, a real estate information service reported.
A total of 19,953 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was up 28.1 percent from 15,573 in February, and up 2.8 percent from 19,412 in March 2011, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.
It’s normal for sales to jump between February and March. On average, they've risen 37.0 percent between those two months since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin. On a year-over-year basis, Southland sales have increased for three consecutive months, and for seven out of the last eight months. However, last month’s Southland sales total was still 18.6 percent below the average for all the months of March since 1988.
As in recent months, March’s year-over-year gain in sales wasn't seen across the price spectrum. Last month the number of transactions below $300,000 rose 2.3 percent from a year earlier, while the number sold between $200,000 and $400,000 rose 4.2 percent. Sales between $300,000 and $800,000 fell 0.6 percent year-over-year, and sales above $800,000 dipped 5.6 percent.
March sales of newly built homes rose almost 9 percent from a year earlier, marking the second consecutive month with a year-over-year gain. But March’s new-home tally was still the second-lowest for that month in DataQuick’s records back to 1988. Last month’s sales of existing (not new) single-family detached houses were the highest for a March since 2010, while resale condo sales were the lowest for that month since 2009.
“The year is young and lots could still change, but the results from the first big sales month of 2012 suggest the market is stuck in low gear. This remains a very gradual – not to mention fragile – recovery. Last month's big gain in sales from February was seasonal. A lot more people get out and shop after the holidays and as spring approaches. More telling was the relatively small gain in sales activity compared with a year ago. It's a reminder that, for many potential buyers, lower prices and amazingly low mortgage rates still aren’t enough to get them over their hurdles: tight credit, home values below what they owe on their mortgages, and uncertainties over the economy and home prices,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.
The median price paid for a Southland home last month was $280,000, up 5.8 percent from $264,750 in February but down 0.2 percent from $280,500 in March 2011. The March median was the highest since the median was also $280,000 last September. The year-over-year decline in the March median was the smallest since February 2011, when the $275,000 median was unchanged compared with a year earlier.
Last month’s median was 13.4 percent above the low point for the current real estate cycle – $247,000 in April 2009 – and 44.6 percent below the $505,000 peak in mid 2007. The peak-to-trough drop was due to a decline in home values as well as a shift in sales toward lower-cost homes, especially inland foreclosures.
The typical monthly mortgage payment that Southland buyers committed themselves to paying was $1,063 last month, compared with $998 in February. Last month’s figure was down from $1,185 for the same month last year. Adjusted for inflation, current payments were 54.8 percent below typical payments in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. They were 63.0 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007.
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