Average home sale price virtually unchanged in third quarter

The average price of houses sold in the county's 32 largest metro areas was virtually unchanged in the third quarter from the same period a year ago, according to the latest government figures.

The average price of both new and existing houses that changed hands during the quarter rose a scant 0.3%, from $318,700 to $319,800, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Ups and downs were evenly split, too, with 16 markets showing gains and 16 recording losses.

But some of the increases were sizable, as were a few of the downswings.

The metro areas with the largest increases -- San Antonio; St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.; and Cleveland -- typically are among the most reasonably priced housing markets in the land.

Consequently, the big gains reported in those urban centers are more likely to be the result of an unusual amount of activity in the higher-price brackets than they are of actual appreciation.

The same goes for the three markets that sported double-digit declines. The bargain hunters were probably extremely busy in Portland, Ore.; Orlando, Fla.; and Las Vegas, picking off more than the usual number of foreclosures, short sales and other distressed properties.

Indeed, Portland is the only one of the three that has shown any strength at all during the current housing cycle.

San Antonio racked up a 49.6% year-over-year gain in the third quarter. The average price of both new and resale houses leaped $109,700, to $330,800 from $221,100.

There can be no other explanation for the gain other than that many more folks bought high-priced houses in San Antonio than starter homes.

St. Louis sported a big gain, too, rising 20.9%, to $266,200 from $220,100. Kansas City registered a 14.2% jump, to $300,000 from $262,800, and the Cleveland-Akron metro region rose 12.1%, to $232,900 from $207,600 .

Even with those gains, though, it wasn't enough to propel any of the four markets onto the list of the nation's 10 most expensive places to buy a house.

On the downside, Portland recorded the largest drop, falling 23%, to $340,500 from $442,300.

Overbuilt Orlando, suffering from a glut of properties put on the market by owners desperate to unload because they can't make the payments, saw its average price fall 20.3%, to $241,800 from $303,500.

And in Las Vegas, where half the properties offered for sale on the local Multiple Listing Service are short sales (and where foreclosures are outselling short sales 4 to 1), the average dropped 13.5%, to $212,400 from $245,500.

The decline was enough to make the Nevada gambling center the second-least expensive of the country's 32 largest cities, behind only Detroit, which, despite severe unemployment, actually saw its average rise 5.1%, to $161,000 from $153,200.

Which takes us to the third quarter's list of the country's most expensive markets: Back on top -- and back above the $600,000 mark -- is San Francisco. The average in the Bay Area metro region, which includes San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, rose 6.2%, to $602,500 from $567,100.

New York City and environs now rank second at $473,600, a decline of 2.1% from $483,900. And the Los Angeles-Riverside region is third at $472,100, a gain of 5% from $449,500.

The next five metro areas all registered slightly lower prices in the quarter compared with the third quarter of 2008.

Fourth on the Top 10 list is Seattle-Tacoma, Wash., at $468,200, down 3% from $482,900. Next comes the Washington-Baltimore region where the average fell 7%, from $482,700 to $448,900.

San Diego is sixth at $444,100, down 2.3% from $454,500, followed by Boston at $389,600, a 5.9% slide from $414,000 a year ago, and Virginia Beach, Va., where the average slipped 2.9%, from $373,700 to $362,800.

No. 9 Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recorded a 1.8% increase, moving the average there from $350,600 to $356,600. And the aforementioned Portland-Salem market is 10th.

lsichelman@aol.com

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