Bay Area Home Sales Soar in January

LA JOLLA, Calif. ( DQNews)-- Bay Area home sales rose last month to the highest level for the month of January in five years, boosted by lower prices, ultra-low mortgage rates, a modestly improved economy and a record level of investor purchases.

The median price paid for a home fell year-over-year for the sixteenth consecutive month as "distressed" sales rose to the highest level since early last year, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 5,479 new and resale houses and condos sold in the nine-county Bay Area in January. That was down 26.9% from 7,494 in December, and up 10.3% from 4,966 in January 2011. The year-over-year sales increase was the seventh in a row, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos sold in the Bay Area last month was $326,000. That was down 2.8% from a revised $335,500 in December, and down 3.6% from $338,000 in January 2011. Last month's median was the lowest since April 2009, when it was $304,000.

"While it's clear prices have edged lower in some areas recently, last month's Bay Area median of just $326,000 is a reflection of how skewed the market has become toward distressed, lower-cost properties. The higher-end sales have slowed in recent months as many struggle to qualify for loans and others just sit tight. This is also the time of year that we caution people not to try to read too much into the statistics. The winter numbers are based on a smaller pool of buyers and they haven't proved very predictive," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

"Meanwhile, we'll be watching to see how the purchase market might be impacted by the government's recently announced efforts to help homeowners refinance, or otherwise avoid foreclosure. The federal-state settlement with five major banks reportedly calls for billions to be spent in California to help certain underwater homeowners reduce their principal or do a short sale. The state Attorney General says there are 'incentives' to ensure much of that money is spent in hard-hit counties 'within the first year.' What's not clear is the extent to which these efforts will kick in during the first half of 2012, which could alter the course of some who are on the brink of foreclosure right now."