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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

California freefall: Home prices fell 26% in February

Signs of distress are piling up in the California housing market, where prices are falling at three times the national rate of decline.

--Statewide, median sales prices fell by a stunning 26% from year-ago levels in February, with home prices dropping at a rate of nearly $3,000 a week, the California Association of Realtors reports. Further, the CAR says the Fed's interest rate-cutting campaign "will have little near-term direct effect on the housing market."

--In the San Fernando Valley, losing a home to foreclosure is now almost as common for families as buying a home. The L.A. Daily News: "During January and February, there were 1,084 foreclosures and 1,335 sales of houses and condos in Valley communities from Glendale to Calabasas, according to the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at California State University, Northridge."

"It's bad. It's really bad," market analyst Nima Nattagh told the Daily News.

The California Association of Realtors reports median prices fell 27.2% from year-ago levels in the hard-hit Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, 30.9% in Sacramento, and 39.1% in Santa Barbara County.

On a percentage basis, the California price meltdown is more than three times as severe as the national decline of 8.2% in median prices reported this week by the National Association of Realtors. On an absolute basis, the California meltdown is even more severe: Nationally, prices fell over the past year at a rate of $338 per week; in California, prices fell at a rate of $2,788 per week.

According to the CAR, "The median sales price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during February 2008 was $409,240, a 26.2 percent decrease from the revised $554,280 median for February 2007." The February 2008 median price fell 4.8 percent compared with January’s revised $429,790 median price.

"The Federal Reserve Bank’s recent action to reduce the federal funds rate will have little near-term direct effect on the housing market," said CAR Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young. "However, Fed rate cuts should result in more favorable real estate finance rates as we move through the year."


Median home sales prices sometimes exaggerate swings in market activity. A year ago, median home sales prices in California continued to show price gains, even though the market downturn had begun. At the time, the collapse of sub-prime lending had the effect of freezing the lower end of the market. With fewer sales of less expensive homes, the market was dominated by sales at higher price points, and median sales prices showed gains.

The opposite appears to be happening now, as lower-priced foreclosed homes come onto the market, increasing sales at lower price points, while the market for more expensive homes has slowed dramatically.

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