California home sale prices keep setting records

By Simon Avery The Associated Press
Friday December 21, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Home prices in California surged to new heights in November, even as a weak job market led to a sizable decline in the overall number of sales, according to a report released Thursday. 

The statewide median home price reached $278,740 last month, up 11.2 percent from a year earlier and 2.4 percent higher than in October, the California Association of Realtors reported. 

However, the overall volume of home sales slipped 0.2 percent last month compared to October, and 12.4 percent from the same period a year ago — one of the strongest months on record. 

Real estate analysts consider job growth the biggest driver of the housing market. With the state’s unemployment rate hitting 6 percent last month for the first time in three years, the drop-off in volume was no surprise. 

But the slowing activity does not signal that homes will get less expensive any time soon, market watchers say. 

“If prices are holding up in the downturn, imagine what’s going to happen in good times,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. 

While uncertainty in the economy has left many home shoppers wary of making a major purchase, a severe housing shortage is keeping prices high. 

“California will always be a supply restricted market,” said Jeff Meyers, chief executive of Meyers Group, a real estate consulting firm in Irvine. “I don’t expect overall prices to decline.” 

A few areas will continue to show weakness, however, including the San Francisco Bay area and the statewide markets for luxury and vacation homes, he said. 

With the effects of the tech bust still playing out, the median home price in San Francisco dropped to $466,610 in November — a 2.3 percent decline from a year earlier. 

In Santa Clara County, a cornerstone of Silicon Valley, the median price dropped 9.3 percent to $498,500. Both areas, however, showed modest month to month increases. 

San Francisco Bay Area prices are still high enough to drive many buyers to the Central Valley, where prices climbed 14.7 percent from the same period a year ago, even as the volume of sales fell 18.3 percent. 

“We’re pretty much on base for December,” said William Burger, a broker with Coldwell Banker in Orangevale. “We’ve seen a little softening at the upper end of the market, but we’re pretty optimistic about next year.” 

In Southern California, where the impact of the national recession has been much weaker, median home prices posted double-digit gains from the year-ago period. In November, they were up 10.7 percent in Los Angeles County, 11.1 percent in Orange County and 19.1 percent in Ventura County. 

Orange County, however, showed a decline in the median price between October and November of 0.5 percent. 

The latest figures are encouraging as far as their effect on the overall economy, Levy said. 

During the last recession in the early 1990s, home construction came to a screeching halt as supply outpaced demand. Economists blamed the heavy drop-off in building activity as one of the reasons for the prolonged downturn in California during the early 1990s. 

“This is evidence that the housing market today is in no way overbuilt,” Levy said.