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Southland home sales stayed above year-ago levels for the eighth consecutive month in February as the median price halted its month-to-month decline for the first time in ten months. Market activity was dominated by bargain-hunting in affordable neighborhoods while buying and selling in more expensive established areas remained largely on hold, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 15,231 new and resale homes sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was essentially unchanged from 15,227 for January, and up 41.3% from 10,777 for February 2008, according to MDA DataQuick. The San Diego firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.MDA DataQuick of San Diego.

Sales have increased on a year-to-year basis since last July. February a year ago was the slowest February in DataQuick's statistics, which go back to 1988. The February average is 18,120.

"The market is so tilted away from normal mainstream activity that it's impossible to generalize or predict based on the atypical patterns we're seeing. That means that normal demand and supply is building up. The floodgates could open once mortgage credit starts to open up," said John Walsh, MDA DataQuick president.

Regionwide, foreclosure resales accounted for 56.4% of February's resales activity, which was the same as the revised January figure and up from 36.2% in February 2008.

The median price paid for a Southland home was $250,000 last month, the same as in January. That was down 38.7% from $408,000 for February a year ago. The median peaked at $505,000 in mid 2007.

In today's market, the drop in the median overstates the decline in home values. The more affordable inland markets with most of the discounted foreclosures account for a large share of today's sales, while homes in the upper half of the market are not selling well, and are under-represented in the statistics. When jumbo loans of more than $417,000 were readily available in early 2007, they accounted for just under 40% of all home purchases. Last month they accounted for just 10.3%.

At the same time, a common form of financing used by first-time home buyers in more affordable neighborhoods is near record levels. Government-insured, FHA mortgages made up about 38% of all purchase loans in February, up from 6.4% in February 2008.

MDA DataQuick, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, 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 that Southland buyers committed themselves to paying was $1,090 last month, down from $1,081 for the previous month, and down from a revised $1,940 for February year ago. Adjusted for inflation, current payments were 49.9% below typical payments in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. They were 58.9% below the current cycle's peak in July 2007.

Indicators of market distress continue to move in different directions. Foreclosure activity is off its 2008 peak but remains at historically high levels, while financing with adjustable-rate mortgages is at an all-time low, as is financing with multiple mortgages. Down payment sizes and flipping rates are stable, and non-owner occupied buying activity is above-average in some markets, MDA DataQuick reported.