Home prices down 7.6% in January
os Angeles County's median home price fell 7.6 percent in January to $305,940 and sales were off 25.4 percent from December, the California Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.
The price of an existing, single-family home was down 3.4 percent from $316,700 a year earlier, but sales eked out a meager 1.8percent gain.
Other regions throughout California weathered much heavier December-to-January price declines, including Butte County (-21.7 percent), Santa Barbara (-19.4 percent) and Santa Cruz (-15.5 percent).
California home sales rose in January, marking three consecutive monthly increases and posting their highest level since May 2010, while the statewide median price declined to its lowest level since June 2009.
California's median price for January was $278,900, down from $305,020 the previous month and $284,600 a year earlier, the CAR report noted.
"Although prices typically fall seasonally in January and February of each year, the decline in the median price can primarily be attributed to the after effects of last fall's foreclosure moratoria," said Leslie Appleton-Young, CAR's vice president and chief economist. "More distressed properties are coming on to the market, which led to an uptick in sales of distressed properties during January."
The trend, she said, is expected to continue as lenders seek to get those properties off their books.
Marty Rodriguez, owner of Century 21 Marty Rodriguez in Glendora, aid her office was bustling in December.
"We really worked on our people skills and just getting out there working," she said. "We opened 58 escrows - that was unbelievable for December."
Rodriguez said things are aren't that tough for first-time buyers who are qualified.
"If you work hard and price things right and get people to do what they need to do, it's not a problem," she said.
Optimism is in short supply among U.S. homebuilders, a sign that the depressed housing market will slow the economy's gains this year.
The outlook by builders hasn't improved since the fall, when new-home sales were in the midst of their bleakest year in a half-century.
Less home building means fewer jobs for the economy. Construction work now accounts for about 5 percent of the nation's private employment. But nearly 2 million of the roughly 14 million unemployed Americans previously worked in construction.
Analysts say the economy needs to accelerate job creation before the housing industry can fully recover. Without more jobs and higher wages, home sales will stagnate.
"We probably won't see a strong recovery in construction jobs anytime soon," said Sal Guatieri, senior economist BMO Capital Markets. "Not a lot of people are showing up to builders' lots, not even to kick the tires. We just have to wait it out."