May 16, 2012La Jolla, CA---Southern California’s median sale price rose year-over-year in April for the first time in 16 months, reflecting stronger, affordability-driven demand and a slimmer inventory of homes for sale – especially low-cost foreclosures. Last month’s sales were modestly higher than a year ago, thanks to significant gains in the coastal counties, but remained well below average, a real estate information service reported.
The median price paid for a Southland home last month was $290,000, up 3.6 percent from $280,000 in both March this year as well as April 2011, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.
Last month’s median was the highest since the median was also $290,000 in December 2010. The year-over-year gain in the April median was also the first since December 2010, when the median rose a scant 0.3 percent.
Although price pressures have no doubt formed in some areas, the year-over-year increase in the April median price also reflects two other trends: the decline in the share of sales that are foreclosed properties, which tend to sell at a discount and be concentrated in lower-cost areas, and a shift toward a greater portion of sales this April in the higher-cost coastal markets. In April last year, for example, sales in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties represented 68.0 percent of the region’s sales, compared with 71.5 percent last month.
April’s $290,000 Southland median was 17.4 percent above the low point for the current real estate cycle – $247,000 in April 2009 – and 42.6 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 housing market continued its painfully slow crawl back toward normalcy last month. You can see it in the fading role of foreclosures, the uptick in median prices here and there, and the higher levels of sales in coastal counties,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.
“Of course, there are still a lot of things that make this market abnormal,” he said. “Investor and cash buying are still unusually robust. The jumbo loan market has yet to recover, and the use of plain-vanilla adjustable-rate mortgages, or ‘ARMs,’ remains far below normal. Lots of homeowners are ‘underwater,’ and the market remains awash in uncertainty over the economy, home prices, and the way lenders will handle the many thousands of homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments.”
Last month a total of 19,284 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties. That was down 3.4 percent from 19,953 in March, and up 5.1 percent from 18,344 in April 2011.
The change in sales between March and April has varied widely over the years. On average, sales have risen about 1 percent between those two months since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin. On a year-over-year basis, Southland sales have increased for four consecutive months, and for eight out of the last nine months. However, last month’s sales were still 21.0 percent below the average for all the months of April since 1988.
The Southland housing market saw a modest uptick in mid-priced sales last month. But contrary to the general trend in recent years, sales of lower-cost homes fell. The latter is partly the result of the dwindling number of foreclosures re-selling and the overall decline in the inventory of homes for sale.
The number of homes that sold for less than $200,000 in April fell 4.7 percent from a year earlier, while the number that sold for between $200,000 and $400,000 rose 5.5 percent. Sales between $300,000 and $800,000 – a range that would include many move-up buyers – increased 3.5 percent year-over-year. The number of sales above $800,000 fell 3.0 percent from a year ago.
Distressed sales – the combination of foreclosure resales and “short” sales – made up about 47 percent of last month’s resale market. That was the lowest level since the figure was 45.1 percent in April 2008.
Foreclosure resales – properties foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – accounted for 28.6 percent of the resale market last month, down from 31.5 percent in March and down from 33.8 percent a year earlier. Last month’s figure was the lowest since foreclosure resales were also 28.6 percent of the resale market in January 2008. In the current cycle, the figure hit a high of 56.7 percent in February 2009.
Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 18.4 percent of Southland resales last month. That compares with 18.9 percent the month before and 17.3 percent a year earlier.
Credit remained tight last month but the influx of more traditional home buyers this spring has brought slightly higher levels of adjustable-rate financing and “jumbo” loans.
Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) accounted for 7.1 percent of last month’s Southland home purchase loans, up from 6.4 percent the prior month and down from 8.5 percent a year earlier. Since 2000, a monthly average of about 36 percent of purchase loans were ARMs.
Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 18.9 percent of last month’s purchase lending – the highest since December 2007. April’s figure was up from 16.4 percent the prior month and 17.4 percent a year ago. In the months leading up to the credit crisis that hit in August 2007, jumbos made up about 40 percent of the market.
Investor activity held near a record-high level in April, and the share of buyers paying cash remained at double the historical average.
Absentee buyers – mostly investors and some second-home purchasers – bought 27.8 percent of the Southland homes sold last month. That was down from 28.2 percent the prior month and up from 25.4 percent a year earlier. The record was 29.9 percent in February this year. Last month’s absentee buyers paid a median $220,000, up from $212,000 the month before and $210,000 a year earlier.
Absentee buying was greatest in the Inland Empire, where it represented 35.8 percent of all homes sold last month, up from 35.6 percent the month before and 33.1 percent a year ago. Since 2000, the Southland’s absentee buyers have purchased a monthly average of about 17 percent of all homes sold.
Cash purchasers accounted for 31.5 percent of April home sales, down from 32.4 percent the month before and roughly even with 31.8 percent a year earlier. Cash buyers paid a median $225,000 last month, up from $215,000 the prior month and $210,000 a year ago. Since 2000, the monthly average for Southland homes purchased with cash is about 15 percent. Cash purchases are where there was no indication in the public record that a corresponding purchase loan was recorded.
Government-insured FHA loans, a popular low-down-payment choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 29.3 percent of all purchase mortgages in April. Last month’s FHA level, which was the lowest for any month since August 2008, compared with 30.0 percent the month before and 33.5 percent a year earlier.
In April, 20.5 percent of all Southland home sales were for $500,000 or more, up from 19.6 percent the month before and the same as a year earlier. Last month’s level was the highest since July 2011, when it was 20.7 percent. The low point for $500,000-plus sales was in January 2009, when only 13.8 percent of sales were above that threshold. Over the past decade, a monthly average of about 28 percent of homes sold for $500,000 or more.
DataQuick 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 Southland buyers committed themselves to paying was $1,096 last month, compared with $1,063 in March. Last month’s figure was down from $1,181 for the same month last year. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s typical payment was 53.6 percent below the typical payment in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 62.0 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 much lower than peak levels reached in recent years. Financing with multiple mortgages is very low, and down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.
County chart may be viewed at DQNews.com.
Source: DQNews.com Media calls: Andrew LePage (916) 456-7157