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California home sales steady in January but prices drop 4.1% from December
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Buyers snapping up cheap homes propped up California home sales last month, taking advantage of foreclosures and slumping prices in a weak market, a real estate tracking firm reported Thursday.

There were 28,111 new and existing homes sold statewide in January, according to San Diego-based DataQuick. Sales were down 25.5 percent from December — a normal seasonal decline — but up 1.5 percent from January 2011.

Sales have increased for the past six months on a year-over-year basis, DataQuick reported.

DataQuick said foreclosures and short sales made up more than half the sales of existing homes.

The median sales price paid in January was $236,000, down 4.1 percent from December and about half the peak price of $484,000 set in early 2007 before the housing crash.

The median sales price has dropped on a year-over-year basis for the last 16 months, DataQuick said.

"The higher-end sales have slowed in recent months as many struggle to qualify for loans and others just sit tight," DataQuick President John Walsh said in a statement referring specifically to sales in the San Francisco Bay area.

Mortgage payments also continued to plummet. The typical payment last month was $893. Adjusted for inflation, that was the lowest rate since at least 1988, DataQuick said.

The statewide figures were on a par with regional trends. DataQuick reported earlier that Southern California home sales rose 0.4 percent last month compared with January 2011, while sales in the San Francisco Bay area showed a 10.3 percent year-over-year improvement.

In both cases, investors snapped up many of the homes.