REAL ESTATE

Home sales perk up in Southern California as price gains slow

A cool-off in Southern California home prices leaves more room for 'regular' buyers

Home sales picked up their pace in December, in the latest sign that the region's housing recovery might finally be reaching more people.

Sales in the six-county Southland climbed 4.3% compared to the same month in 2013, according to new figures Wednesday from real estate firm CoreLogic DataQuick, marking just the second time in a year that volume has increased on an annual basis.

At $415,000, the median price of all homes sold in the region treaded water as it has for several months now. It was up 5.1% from last year, the slowest annual pace recorded since April 2012.

Both numbers reflect a housing market that is stabilizing. Price growth has slowed dramatically since this time last year, and that -- plus an improving economy and near-record-low interest rates -- is helping more would-be buyers find houses they can afford.

That bodes well for 2015, said CoreLogic analyst Andrew LePage, especially if more people put their homes on the market this spring.

"One month doesn't make a trend, but December's uptick in home sales might indicate renewed interest in housing thanks to low mortgage rates and job growth," he said. "If demand continues we'll need more supply to keep up with it. One of the big questions hanging over the housing market is whether high demand and home values will lead to a lot more people listing their homes for sale."

The market is becoming increasingly reliant on so-called regular buyers -- owner-occupants with a mortgage -- as the share of cash buyers, investors and foreclosure sales all have fallen to their lowest levels in five years. That's easing competition, at least a bit, real estate agents say, and making it easier for those regular buyers to find houses to buy.

The market also appears to be strongest in the most affordable parts of the region. Sales and prices grew fastest in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, while sales volume fell in Orange County and price growth there was the slowest of the six counties CoreLogic tracks.

Keep an eye on housing and real estate in Southern California. Follow me on Twitter at @bytimlogan

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