Overall, 2011 turned into a battle of the beach cities. Hermosa Beach was the big winner where home price gains were concerned and Malibu the biggest loser among ZIP Codes with medians above $1 million where at least 50 existing single-family homes were sold, according to statistics from San Diego-based DataQuick.
But appearances can be deceiving. Local luxury communities that showed the most price gains last year were largely just regaining previously lost ground. And because the median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less, changes in the mix of what sold affect the median price.
A lack of homes for sale at the top of the price spectrum was cited by two San Marino agents as a reason for the median price drop there.
"There is almost no inventory at the high end," said Yan-Yan Zhang, a Rodeo Realty agent whose clients include overseas buyers looking for homes or commercial properties. Consequently, she has noticed more flexibility among her clientele on location. "Buyers are more accepting of other communities."
In San Marino, the most active slice of the market was around $2 million, Linda Chang of Coldwell Banker said. Properties in need of work also were in demand, she said. "I had multiple offers on a $1.85-million fixer."
Housing statistics show only sales that have made it to the public record, a fact that also may play a role in the San Marino downshift to a $1.42-million median.
"A $20-million sale hasn't recorded yet," Chang said. Also, a $13-million transaction is still in escrow.
The 15.8% gain in Hermosa Beach moved it back above the $1-million mark to a median of $1.1 million last year. But the increase barely offset the previous year drop-off, when prices lost 15.4%.
Bel-Air and environs had a 14.3% price increase from 2010 to 2011, but it came off a 10.5% loss in the 2009-to-2010 tally. The 147 recorded sales included the $85-million Spelling mansion mega-deal, which claimed the highest-priced-sale distinction for Southern California.
Also on the plus side was West Hollywood, up 8.4% year over year. That median had been down 10.4% in 2010.
In Beverly Hills' desirable 90210 ZIP Code, prices were up 7.3% compared with a 1.7% drop the year before. But the median at the end of 2009 had been down 17.2%.
Rounding out the top five gainers in 2011 was the Palos Verdes Peninsula's 90274 ZIP Code, which was up 4.2% on top of a 1.6% gain in 2010. The area experienced a 15.8% price drop in 2009.
Among communities with the greatest median price drops last year, Malibu saw a year-over-year decrease of 21% to $1.65 million. Calendar year 2010 had seen a price gain of 2% from 2009.
Santa Monica's 90402 ZIP Code had 110 existing-home sales at a median price of $2.141 million — an 8.5% price drop. Although nearly unchanged in 2010, the 2009 median had experienced a 13.7% drop.
Pacific Palisades took a 7.8% hit in the median price last year. It was the third consecutive year the median fell there.
Manhattan Beach fell 4.9%, having seen a median price gain of 9.1% in 2010 after a 14.1% decline in 2009.