A tight inventory restricted home sales throughout the Santa Clarita Valley during February while the median price of homes sold was up slightly to $410,000, the Southland Regional Association of Realtors reported on Friday, March 26.
A total of 140 single-family homes and 55 condominiums changed owners last month. The single-family total was down 16.2 percent from a year ago while condo sales increased 22.2 percent as buyers scrambled to purchase any available entry-level property.
"February typically is a slow month for sales, but the strict qualifying standards for securing a home loan combined with the low number of homes listed for sale were drags on activity," said Andrew Walter, president of the Association's Santa Clarita Valley Division. "The really good news is that we've seen a steady increase in move-up buyers over the past few months."
Walter and Jim Link, the Association's chief executive officer, praised the State Legislature for passing and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing into law on Thursday a measure that offers a $10,000 tax credit to California home buyers.
"The federal tax credit of $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers has been a tremendous boon for home sales, but those are set to expire in coming months," Walter said. "California's $10,000 tax credit comes at the perfect time. It will go a long way to reassure sellers and buyers that the housing market is stable."
Walter and Link agreed that reports from Realtors indicate there are many more buyers seeking a home to purchase than there are properties listed for sale.
"There's intense competition for any property under $500,000," Link said. "Competition has grown more fierce as the inventory dries up."
The Association reported a total of 891 active listings at the end of February. That number was down 30.6 percent from a year ago and represents a 4.6-month supply at the current pace of sales. A balanced market emerges with a 5- to 6-month inventory. A year-ago February the Association reported a 6.1-month inventory.
Both executives urged lenders to act faster when it comes to approving short sales.
"The inconsistencies from lender to lender plus the extensive delays in closing short sales drag sales down further and leaves dozens of prospective buyers in limbo," Link said. "Short sales need to be approved in under 90 days, but now many are taking much longer."
Link and Walter also agreed that the market won't return to normal until all distressed properties move through the system and traditional home sellers return in greater numbers.
"Foreclosure and especially short sale listings still predominate, " Link said, "while listings from traditional sellers typically appear only if the owner has to sell. That's slowly changing as owners gain more confidence in the strength of the market."
The median price of the 140 single-family homes that changed owners last month was $410,000, up 0.5 percent from a year ago and 2.5 percent higher than this January. The median has been steadily rising almost every month since the low point of $385,000, which came in December 2008.
The condominium median resale price of $250,000 rose 11.1 percent above a year ago and increased 6.4 percent from January. It too has been moving higher nearly every month since its low point of $199,500 in March 2009.
Pending escrows — a measure of future resale activity — rose 19.3 percent compared to a year ago with 377 open escrows.
The Southland Regional Association of Realtors is a local trade association comprised of more than 10,000 members serving the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. SRAR is one of the largest local associations in the nation.