HOUSING: Local house prices level off in February, index says

San Diego County home prices steadied in February, ending a six-month streak of declines, a respected home price indicator said Tuesday.

After watching the value of their homes slide through most of 2011, many homeowners pulled their properties off the market this year. At the same time, local foreclosure rates dropped, reducing the number of bank-owned properties on the market. The resulting drop in inventory has left buyers competing for the few remaining properties, steadying prices, Realtors and other observers said. Nationally, home prices fell in February, according to Standard Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

“In general, prices this year and next year are going to stabilize,” said Norm Berg, a Del Mar-based real estate agent.

San Diego County house prices fell 3.8 percent in February compared with 12 months earlier, the 13th consecutive annual decline. But prices rose 0.2 percent from January.

The Case-Shiller Index measures house resales in 20 metropolitan areas. Of those, 15 saw house prices fall compared with 12 months earlier, with only Detroit, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Denver, and Miami prices rising. On a monthly basis, only Phoenix, San Diego, and Miami house prices rose. Nine cities have house values below their post-crisis lows. San Diego County house prices fell 40.5 percent from a 2005 peak, but remain 3.2 percent above a low reached in 2009.

The median house price in North San Diego County hit $415,000 in February, up 0.6 percent from January, but down 3.8 percent from February 2011. In Riverside County, the median home price in February hit $193,000, down 1 percent from the year before, according to La Jolla-based DataQuick.

“The biggest problem I see now is inventory,” said Bob Nielsen, a Carlsbad real estate agent. “A lot of people that are underwater are waiting to sell.”

In North San Diego and Southwest Riverside counties, in the first few months of the year, buyers found themselves bidding for a smaller pool of houses, which may push up prices this spring (from bid to purchase can take 30 to 60 days in a traditional house sale). In March, the house listings in North San Diego County fell to 3,577, which, though still higher than a low of 3,065 in July 2009, represented a 21 percent drop from the 2011 average, according to the North San Diego County Association of Realtors.

At the same time, the local foreclosure rate has also been falling, reducing the number of bank-owned homes for sale. In North San Diego County, the rate of foreclosures fell to 0.5 per 1,000 households in March, down 57 percent from March 2011, and the lowest rate since February 2007, according to data firm ForeclosureRadar. In Southwest Riverside County, the foreclosure rate fell to 1.5 per 1,000 households, down 64 percent from March 2011. On an annual basis, the foreclosure rate in Southwest Riverside County has fallen for 23 consecutive months, and it has fallen in North San Diego County for 13 consecutive months.

Most of the stabilization came from the middle part of the market. According to Case-Shiller, homes priced above $436,697, or 47 percent of the market, were flat in February from January, and a 4.4 percent drop from last year. Homes priced between $296,774 and $436,697 —- representing 29 percent of North County sales —- rose 0.6 percent from January but fell 3.3 percent from 12 months earlier. And homes priced below $296,774, 24 percent of North County sales, lost 1.4 percent from January and 4.5 percent from February 2011.

Article source: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20101223/SPORTS/101229909/1100/SPORTS16

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