Home prices hot, but Buyers cool
By MARIA ZATE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Rising interest rates
Home prices across Santa Barbara County rose by double digits last month, but Sellers may be
losing the upper hand as Buyers show signs of holding out for better deals.
Unlike the frenzy of a year ago, which spawned multiple offers even on mediocre properties,
Buyers seem more confident about taking their time -- especially in the North County.
"There's more negotiating going on, and more people are questioning if we are hitting a
plateau," said Maria Slizys of Prudential California Realty Hunter Division in Lompoc. "That's causing Buyers to take a more cautious approach. There's a lot more hesitation now."
Home prices are at record highs, and fears are escalating over a potential bubble and rising
In Santa Maria, Buyers are facing less competition and a wider selection of homes to choose
from, said D'Ann Bartley of Coldwell Banker Dan Blough & Associates.
"Homes are staying on the market longer. There's a lot more inventory than there was last
year, so we don't have the panic among Buyers that we had last year," Ms. Bartley said."There are only a few multiple offers, and that's only on properties that are priced right and
that show beautifully."
Based on data from the Association of Realtors, the median price has increased in Santa
Maria and Lompoc in the first two months of the year, but agents said the rate of the rise is
slowing even though there are plenty of people looking.
Median price marks the point where half the homes on the market sell for more and half sell
for less. The median reflects the mix of all homes sold in a specific time frame, not
appreciation rates on individual properties.
Santa Maria's median was $438,000 in February, up 35 percent from the same month last
year. The year-to-date median is $425,000, about 33 percent higher than last year.
Lompoc's median price rose 31 percent in February to $445,000. For the year to date,
considered a better indicator of trends, Lompoc's median hit $432,250, a 27 percent rise from
a year ago.
The median in Santa Ynez Valley was $777,500 last month, up 20 percent from a year ago.
For the first two months of the year the median was $800,000, or up 23 percent.
On the South Coast, the median price rose nearly 29 percent to $1.2 million in February, but
that number is largely due to an increase in sales in Montecito. Outside of Montecito, the
number of home sales has dropped considerably, and a few observers say prices are leveling
A total of 101 homes were sold on the South Coast (not counting Montecito) so far this year,
versus 141 in the same period last year.
"We're kind of seeing a holding pattern right now with prices. Buyers are frustrated with the
incredibly low inventory out there. So they are being cautious about putting offers on
properties that they aren't totally in love with," said John Bahura of Century 21 A Hart Realty
in Santa Barbara.
Like agents in the North County, Mr. Bahura said there are plenty of Buyers, but they are less
willing to buy what's available even if the pickings are slim.
"Even with the lower-end (price) homes, we're seeing properties are taking longer to sell," he
The median price of condominiums on the South Coast hit $659,000 in February, up 18
percent from the year-ago price. For the year to date, condos rose 18 percent to $651,000.
Total condo sales so far this year dipped from 66 units to 58.
Montecito is the only area in the county that has seen a lift in the number of home sales for
the year to date.
A total of 42 homes were sold in the area in January and February, compared with 26 in the
same period last year. The median price for the year to date stands at $2,425,000, up 21
percent from last year's median of $1,998,000.
Price increases in Montecito are just catching up with the appreciation levels seen in other
parts of the county, said Dan Encell of Prudential California Realty in Montecito.
A few years ago, as lower-priced homes were chalking up price jumps of 20 percent or more,
high-end home prices were rising only slightly, he added. But demand from baby boomers
and the wealthy is driving up Montecito prices.
"We continue to see wealthy people wanting to move here," Mr. Encell said. These are
people who can live anywhere in the world, but they want to live in Montecito."