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San Francisco Bay area February home sales dip but prices on the rise

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POSTED March 14, 2013 6:17 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Home sales dropped and prices rose in the San Francisco Bay area last month as supplies remained tight, the real estate research firm DataQuick reported Thursday.

A total of 5,404 houses and condominiums were sold, down 1.8 percent from January and more than 6 percent from February of 2012, DataQuick said.

The median sales price for a home in the nine-county area was $405,000. That was down 2.4 percent from January but still nearly 25 percent higher than a year ago.

Although prices remain well below the peak of several years ago, they have soared by double digits each month for the past nine months when compared with the same months a year earlier. The gains have topped 20 percent in the past four months in year-over-year comparisons, DataQuick said.

"Isn't this Economics 101? Supply and demand?" DataQuick President John Walsh asked in a statement. "If demand outstrips supply in a free market, the price goes up."

"Now, with a recovering economy, prices still closer to the bottom than to the top, with ultra-low mortgage interest rates and tight supply, the stage is set for price gains. This spring is going to be interesting," Walsh said.

There were continuing indications that California's housing market is recovering from its five-year slump.

"Foreclosure activity is well below peak levels reached in the last few years. Financing with multiple mortgages is low, and down payment sizes are stable," DataQuick said in a statement.

Sales in February shifted from low-cost, distressed homes to mid-market and higher properties, with the number of homes selling for $500,000 or more jumping by 27.7 percent, DataQuick reported.

Foreclosures and short sales, those in which the price was less than the amount owed on the property, both were down over January and there were a lot fewer of them compared with February a year ago.

Investors, as compared with first-time homebuyers, accounted for a sizeable chunk of the sales. Absentee buyers, who mostly are investors, bought 28.2 percent of all Bay area homes.

That was an all-time high based on DataQuick figures going back to 2000, the company said.

In Southern California, homes sales continued strong, with 15,945 sold — the most for a February in the past six years.

The median sales price in Los Angeles and five other counties was $320,000, DataQuick reported Wednesday.

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