If you're shopping for a home under $500,000 in Southern California, "now is the time to buy."

But Al Gobar says that hesitantly.

The confidence this real estate consultant has is tempered by a cloud of uneasiness over the economy.

That uneasiness stems from the federal government's massive intervention in propping things up - namely the hundreds of millions injected into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The owner of Anaheim- based Alfred Gobar Associates, a real estate and economics consulting firm, sees Southern California real estate prices flattening between now until the end of 2010, or possibly into 2011, before starting a very slow rise.

And when they go up, don't expect more than an average 3percent increase per year.

"Recovery means they stabilize," he said during an interview after the Real Estate Research Council of Southern California's third-quarter update on Thursday at Cal Poly Pomona. "Over the long run, you can't have home prices grow much faster than inflation."

The council's third quarter report shows that home prices are still taking a beating in several regions across California, although many sub-areas are stabilizing.

There's no indication of prices rising significantly any time soon, according to Michael Carney, the council's executive director.

For the combined seven- county region in Southern California, the median home price has dropped to what it was in early 2003 - about $ 169,000.

Gobar gave insight into more than just real estate prices.

The former USC economics professor says he's usually optimistic, but not as much recently.

He says bank bailouts, proposed health care legislation and federal stimulus initiatives worry several entrepreneurs in the small business community.

"The business community feels the political community is anti-business - they're scared," Gobar said. "They're worried about higher taxes, stimulus, health care penalties - they're just afraid."