SAN DIEGO (AP) — Southern California home sales rose slightly last month as investors snapped up the region's lowest-priced properties, sinking prices to the lowest levels in more than 2 1/2 years, a research firm reported Wednesday.
More than half of existing homes sold were foreclosed on in the previous year or short sales — transactions in which the price is less than what is owed on the property.
There were 14,523 new and existing homes and condominiums sold in the six-county region in January, up 0.4 percent from the same period last year, DataQuick said. Sales plunged nearly 25 percent from December, reflecting a typical seasonal decline.
Last month, 669 new homes sold, the lowest monthly tally since DataQuick began tracking sales in 1988.
The median price was $260,000, down 3.7 percent from $270,000 the same period a year earlier and from December. It was the lowest price since $249,000 in May 2009. During the current cycle, prices peaked at $505,000 in the middle of 2007 and bottomed out at $247,000 in April 2009.
John Walsh, president of the San Diego-based research firm, said January is typically a poor gauge of future sales but that the mortgage market "remains dysfunctional." Nearly one-third of homes sold last month were paid for fully in cash for a median price of $199,000.
Absentee buyers — mostly investors and second-home purchasers — bought 26.8 percent of homes sold, paying a median price of $193,500. Absentee buyers were especially active in the Inland Empire, which has Southern California's lowest-priced homes.
Homes that sold for at least $500,000 accounted for 16 percent of sales, down from 18.3 percent a year earlier, DataQuick said. During the last decade, a monthly average of 27.2 percent of homes sold for at least $500,000.