Bay Area home prices fall, Southern California prices rise

By Michael Liedtke The Associated Press
Wednesday November 28, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Now may be the time to buy for those who have always wanted to own a house in the San Francisco Bay area. The cost of mid-priced homes fell in October to less than a year earlier, marking the first time since 1995, but that trend didn’t hold true in Southern California, a real estate firm reported. 

A mid-range home in the Bay Area sold for $366,000 in October, down 0.8 percent from $369,000 at the same time last year, DataQuick Information Systems reported Monday. The figures are based on sales of new and existing homes, as well as condominiums. 

Last month’s price dip came during the throes of a prolonged sales slump. Bay Area home sales through the first 10 months of this year are running 17.3 percent below last year’s volume, DataQuick said. 

Another report based on the sales of existing houses is scheduled to be released Tuesday by the California Association of Realtors, an industry trade group. 

Although the year-to-year decline registered in DataQuick’s statistics is small, it nevertheless signals a significant swing in the Bay Area’s housing market, where homeowners reveled in steadily rising property values throughout the last half of the 1990s. 

It marked the first year-to-year decline in the Bay Area’s residential property since September 1995, when a mid-priced home in the region sold for $221,000, down 0.9 percent from $223,000 in the prior year. After falling into that trough, Bay Area home values began an ascent that peaked at a median price of $386,000 in March of this year, DataQuick said. 

Even as Bay Area home prices fell from the March high, the values still remained above the levels of last year’s comparable periods until October’s shift. 

Last month’s downturn doesn’t necessarily herald the beginning of a long slide in Bay Area home prices, said DataQuick President Mike Ela. 

“We expect the Bay Area market to stay on an even keel through the rest of the year and on into 2002,” Ela said. 

Meanwhile, the Southern California home market remained robust during October as buyers enticed by the lowest mortgage rates in a generation swarmed into the market to drive up prices. 

Boosted by the region’s highest October sales volume in 12 years, mid-range homes in Southern California sold for $233,000, an 8.9 percent increase from $214,000 at the same time last year, DataQuick said. 

Riverside County and San Diego County were particularly hot markets, with home values rising by 16.6 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively, from the previous year, according to DataQuick. 

The contrasting numbers in the Bay Area and Southern California illuminates the divergent fortunes of the two biggest regions in the nation’s most populous state. Average housing rents in the Bay Area and Southern California also moved in opposite directions during the summer, according to a study by RealFacts. 

With nearly one-third of its non-farm payroll tied to the high-tech industry, the Bay Area is still suffering from the crash of the dot-com economy that enriched the region during the late 1990s. 

High-tech accounts for less than 10 percent of Southern California’s non-farm payroll, helping the region’s economy hold up much better than the Bay Area during the current recession. 

The Bay Area’s tech-driven hangover is causing even greater pain in the luxury market consisting of homes worth at least $1 million. 

Bay Area luxury homes sold for an average of $2.21 million during the three months ended in September, a 7.5 percent decline from the second quarter, according to a report to be released Tuesday by First Republic Bank, a San Francisco lender that caters to wealthy households throughout the state. 

It marked the first quarter-to-quarter drop in the Bay Area’s luxury home market since the first three months of 1999. Luxury home prices could plunge by another 20 percent to 30 percent before the Bay Area market bottoms out in the spring of next year, predicted Scott Dancer, a Coldwell Banker real estate broker in Woodside, one of the Bay Area’s most affluent neighborhoods. 

Meanwhile, luxury homes in Los Angeles gained 2.4 percent in the third quarter to $1.31 million — the highest average since 1992, according to First Republic. Luxury homes in San Diego climbed 6.2 percent in the third quarter to an average of $1.39 million. 


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