L.A. home prices plunge

Believe it or not, the median price in January was $458,000, almost 12 percent below the year-earlier period. L.A. County home sales tumbled 50.1 percent, to a mere 3,398. That's for all of L.A. County. For all of Socal - and that includes L.A., OC, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside - there were less than 10,000 transactions in January, the slowest month in 20 years (all numbers courtesy of Dataquick). "We don't know how much of this downturn is driven by market fundamentals, and how much is due to turmoil in the lending industry," said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president. "The market has been sending mixed signals since August, and it's virtually impossible to see trends and make predictions. Our sense is that quite a bit of activity is on hold, we just don't know how long it can be kept on hold." Here's one big explanation for the slow sales: By the end of this year, according to Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius, as many as 15 million U.S. households may owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That may fuel an increase in foreclosures, erode prices, and increase mortgage bond losses. Here's more from Bloomberg:

Declining values may keep many people from trading up. Owners with fixed-rate mortgages probably will ride out the slump without moving, even if they have a growing family and need more room, said David Berson, chief economist at PMI Group Inc. in Walnut Creek, California. They won't be spending much for clothes or dishwashers or Disneyland vacations, he said. "Economists call it a negative wealth effect," said Berson, the former chief economist of Fannie Mae. "When housing values go down, people tend to stay put, save more and spend less."

L.A. JANUARY HOME SALES (% change from January '07)
Los Angeles -50.1%
Orange -46.4%
Riverside -37.2%
San Bernardino -53.2%
San Diego -34.1%
Ventura -38.6%

L.A. JANUARY HOME PRICES (% change from January '07)
Los Angeles $458,000 (-11.9%)
Orange $520,000 (-13.3%)
Riverside $331,500 (-20.1%)
San Bernardino $298,500 (-19.3%)
San Diego $429,000 (-9.1%)
Ventura $477,750 (-15.4%)

Source: DataQuick Information Systems, DQNews.com

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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