Southern California homes sold at the fastest pace for an April in seven years amid the release of pent-up demand for move-up homes and high levels of investor purchases. The median sale price rose to a 58-month high, reflecting both home price appreciation as well as the simultaneous plunge in foreclosure resales and surge in mid- to up-market buying, a real estate information service reported.
A total of 21,415 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was up 4.1 percent from 20,581 sales in March, and up 9.5 percent from 19,562 sales in April 2012, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.
On average, sales between March and April have risen 1.0 percent since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin.
Last month’s sales were the highest for the month of April since 27,114 Southland homes sold in April 2006, but they were 11.8 percent below the April average of 24,291 sales. The low for April sales was 15,303 in 1995, while the high was 37,905 in April 2004.
“This is a market that is still re-balancing. Sales of deeply discounted properties in affordable neighborhoods are way down. Activity in middle and high-end communities is on its way up. Now it's catch-up time, with a healthier economy spurring more demand and rising prices tempting more people to put their homes up for sale,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.
The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos sold in the six-county Southland was $357,000 last month, up 3.3 percent from $345,500 in March and up 23.1 percent from $290,000 in April 2012. Last month's median was the highest since June 2008, when the median was $360,000.
The median has risen on a year-over-year basis for 13 consecutive months, and those gains have been double-digit – between 10.8 percent and 23.5 percent – since last August. Still, last month's median remained 29.3 percent below the peak $505,000 median in spring/summer 2007.
It appears that well over half of last month’s 23.1 percent year-over-year gain in the Southland median sale price reflects rising home prices, with the balance reflecting the change in market mix.
Some of the Southland's most affordable housing markets, where prices were beaten down the most during the foreclosure crisis, posted some of the largest price gains. In April, the lowest-cost third of the region's housing stock saw a 20.7 percent year-over-year gain in the median price paid per square foot for resale houses. The annual gain was 18.5 percent for the middle third of the market and 15.2 percent for the top third.
Sales rose 35.4 percent year-over-year in the $300,000 to $800,000 price range – a range that would include many move-up buyers. The number sold for $500,000 or more shot up 52.7 percent from one year earlier and was at the highest level in just over five and a half years. Sales of $800,000-plus homes increased 51.4 percent year-over-year.
In April, 29.9 percent of all Southland home sales were $500,000-plus – the highest for any month since April 2008, when 31.1 percent of sales reached or crossed the $500,000 threshold. Last month's $500,000-plus level was up from 27.9 percent of sales in March and 21.0 percent a year earlier.
The number of homes that sold below $200,000 last month declined 29.8 percent year-over-year, while sales below $300,000 dipped 21.1 percent. Sales in many affordable markets have been limited not by a lack of demand, but by a lack of supply. The latter has two main causes: First, a relatively high percentage of owners can’t afford to put their homes up for sale because they owe more than those homes are worth. Second, foreclosures are way down, further limiting the supply of homes for sale.
Last month foreclosure resales – homes foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – accounted for 12.4 percent of the Southland resale market. That was down from a revised 13.8 percent the month before and down from 28.8 percent a year earlier. Last month’s figure was the lowest since it was 10.0 percent in August 2007. In the current cycle, foreclosure resales hit a high of 56.7 percent in February 2009.
Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 17.7 percent of Southland resales last month. That was down from an estimated 20.1 percent the month before and 24.3 percent a year earlier.
The portion of all homes sold to absentee and cash buyers dipped month-to-month but remained higher than a year ago and near peak levels.
Absentee buyers – mostly investors and some second-home purchasers – bought 30.2 percent of the Southland homes sold last month. That was down from 31.1 percent in March and up from 28.4 percent a year earlier. The record was 32.4 percent in January this year, while the monthly average since 2000, when the absentee data begin, is 18.1 percent. Last month’s absentee buyers paid a median $281,000, up 27.7 percent from a year earlier.
Buyers paying with cash accounted for 33.5 percent of last month's home sales, compared with 35.0 percent the month before and 32.2 percent a year earlier. The peak was 36.9 percent this February, and since 1988 the monthly average is 16.0 percent. Cash buyers paid a median $295,500 last month, up 31.3 percent from a year ago. Nearly 25 percent of the homes purchased by those paying cash last month were priced $500,000 or above, compared with 17.0 percent a year earlier.
The share of homes flipped has been running higher this year compared with 2012. In April, 6.0 percent of all Southland homes sold on the open market had previously sold in the prior six months, down from a flipping rate of 6.3 percent in March and up from 4.3 percent a year ago. (The figures exclude homes that were resold after being purchased at public foreclosure auction sales on the courthouse steps).
Credit conditions appear to be improving, although only incrementally.
Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 26.1 percent of last month’s Southland purchase lending – the highest since September 2007, when jumbos made up 26.9 percent of the market. Last month’s figure was up from 23.8 percent the prior month and 18.3 percent a year earlier. In the months leading up to the credit crunch that struck in August 2007, jumbos accounted for around 40 percent of the home loan market.
Last month 7.9 percent of Southland home purchase loans were adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), up from 7.4 percent the prior month and up from 7.0 percent a year earlier. Last month's figure was the highest since ARMs were 8.5 percent of the purchase loan market in August 2011. Since 2000, a monthly average of about 33 percent of Southland purchase have been ARMs.
The most active lenders to Southern California home buyers last month were Wells Fargo with 7.9 percent of the purchase loan market, JP Morgan Chase with 2.7 percent, and Prospect Mortgage with 2.5 percent.
Government-insured FHA loans, a popular low-down-payment choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 21.8 percent of all purchase mortgages last month. That was down from 22.7 percent the month before and 30.6 percent a year earlier. In recent months the FHA share has been the lowest since spring/summer 2008. The decline reflects tighter FHA qualifying standards implemented in recent years as well as the difficulties first-time buyers are having competing with investors.
DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.
The typical monthly mortgage payment Southland buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $1,275, up from $1,252 the month before and up from $1,096 a year earlier. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s typical payment was 46.6 percent below the typical payment in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 56.3 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007.
Indicators of market distress continue to move in different directions. Foreclosure activity remains well below year-ago and far below peak levels. Financing with multiple mortgages is very low, and down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.