October 17th, 2011 8:05 AM by Lehel S.
Southern California's housing market stalled in September, with sales flat and the region's median price down compared with the same month last year, according to DataQuick, a San Diego real estate information firm.Sales of new and resale homes and condos increased 0.3% to 18,149 from the same month a year earlier, when the market was reeling from the effect of an expired tax credit that had boosted sales for much of the year. As is typical, sales fell from August to September, down 7.7%.About 1 in 3 of the previously owned homes sold last month were foreclosures. This glut of troubled homes and a lack of demand helped push prices down over the year.The median price for the region fell 5.2% from the same month a year earlier, to $280,000, and the median was essentially flat from August, up 0.4%. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.With little sign of economic acceleration nationally and locally, the housing market has few chances of bouncing back any time soon, experts said."The economy is dangerously close to falling back into recessionary territory — that is the larger macro view," said Stuart Gabriel, director of the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. "Housing can't really recover without stronger macroeconomic underpinnings."Housing is suffering from the continued fallout of the subprime mortgage crisis and the recession, whose end has brought little employment relief. Joblessness, consumer pessimism about the future and the vast number of homes that remain "underwater," or valued less than the debt on the property, are keeping potential purchasers out of housing.And despite low interest rates and high home affordability in the Southland, it is increasingly difficult for anyone other than the most qualified borrowers to get a mortgage.The so-called move-up market is suffering because many people who own homes are frightened to take on more debt or can't sell their homes. September sales of homes priced from $300,000 to $800,000 fell 9.3% year-over-year. Sales of homes priced at more than $800,000 fell 10.4%, DataQuick said.Bargain hunters and investors appear to be the only ones snapping up homes, with the market for properties below $300,000 remaining relatively strong. Buyers who paid all cash made up 28.5% of sales last month, paying a median price of $210,000. Of those paying cash, 52.9% were investors or second-home buyers, DataQuick said.Foreclosed homes made up 32.3% of the resale market last month, down from 32.4% in August and 33.6% a year earlier. Short sales, in which the home is sold for less than the debt on the property, made up 18.5% of the market last month, up from 17.5% in August and 16.1% a year earlier.A total of 1,056 new homes sold last month, down 24.9% from a year earlier and the lowest level for a September since 1988, when DataQuick's records began.