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Number of homes sold in county drops

10/26/05
By MARIA ZATE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

But median price is up from year ago.

The number of homes sold fell throughout Santa Barbara County last month, but median prices posted increases from year-ago levels. Despite the higher prices, some experts believe the market is slowing down and becoming more favorable to Buyers.

"Sales are way off. We are seeing this everywhere in the state, but particularly in areas that have had the highest prices," said economist Mark Schniepp of the California Economic Forecast in Goleta.

On the South Coast, the median price for an existing single-family home in September exceeded $1.4 million, up 55 percent from the $950,000 median of a year ago. However, the big jump also reflects a September 2004 dip in prices, after the median exceeded the $1 million mark throughout summer 2004.

Median price is the point at which half the homes on the market sell for more and half sell for less. The median reflects the mix of homes sold in a particular time frame, not appreciation rates on individual properties.

A better indicator of price trends is year-to-date information, and it tells a similar story. For the year to date, the South Coast median was more than $1.2 million, up nearly 25 percent from about $1 million last year.

Still, the housing market has lost the frenzy of earlier this year, when it was common to find numerous Buyers pushing prices well above the asking level.

"The market is slowing. We are seeing an industry that is turning the corner to become a Buyer's market," said John Thyne, co-owner of Goodwin & Thyne Properties in Santa Barbara.

Homes are taking longer to sell and there are more for sale, he noted.

South Coast home sales for September plummeted nearly 35 percent, year over year -- the biggest drop out of all areas measured by the California Association of Realtors. For the year to date, sales fell nearly 10 percent.

With homes taking longer to sell, price reductions have flooded the market. However, that doesn't mean home values are falling, according to Mr. Schniepp.

"Prices are being reduced, but they're dropping to the levels that they should have been at in the first place," he said.

While the market has softened overall, the sale of high-end homes priced at several million dollars continues to buoy the median, Mr. Schniepp said. Twenty-nine homes sold last month with a price of $2 million or more. This compares with 17 sales in this category a year ago.

The rise in the median price for South Coast condominiums continued the trend of singledigit increases felt throughout the summer. Condo prices rose 8 percent in September to $650,000. For the year to date, the condo median rose more than 15 percent to $669,894. Condo sales fell by about 24 percent last month and were down 4 percent for the year so far.

The Santa Ynez Valley's median price rose 17 percent in September to $850,000. Sales were relatively flat, with 23 homes sold last month compared with 21 a year ago. For the year to date, the median rose nearly 9 percent to $816,000. Sales for the year to date fell by 29 percent.

In Santa Maria, the median for September was $459,900, up close to 11 percent from a year ago. Sales were flat, dropping by 1 percent. Santa Maria's median for the year to date was $444,500, up 21 percent. Year-to-date sales also were basically flat, with a 1 percent increase.

The Lompoc Valley was the only area in the county to post a September median price that was lower than a year ago.

Last month's median was $443,500, compared with $445,900 in September 2004 -- a drop of 0.5 percent, according to the Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors. Sales last month fell nearly 17 percent, with 40 homes sold versus 48 a year ago.

For the year to date, the Lompoc Valley posted a median of $385,000, up close to 28 percent from last year. Sales for the same time period dropped more than 1 percent.

THE OUTLOOK: "The market is slowing. We are seeing an industry that is turning the corner to become a Buyer's market," says John Thyne, co-owner of Goodwin & Thyne Properties in Santa Barbara

mzate@newspress.com

 

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