Ventura County real estate agents were encouraged Wednesday by news that home sales have decreased far more slowly here than anywhere else in economically troubled Southern California, a sign that this market remains consistent while those around it are floundering.
The number of home sales in Ventura County from January through June this year fell by 1.8% compared with the same six-month period last year, according to figures released this week by TRW REDI Property Data.
That is a far better rate than the 10.8% drop suffered by all of Southern California for the first six months of 1993 and the 15.9% decline in Bay Area housing sales for the first five months of the year, said Nima Nattagh, market analyst for the Riverside firm.
"The sales are fairly consistent," said Pat Fredericks, president of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors. "It's not the wonderful rip-roaring successes that we had in the late '80s, but we're seeing steady sales, and I think that this is a normal market."
TRW REDI Property Data also reported that the average price of homes sold in Ventura County in the first six months of 1993 was $232,307, down from $237,753 in the same period last year.
Devalued property and a run on cheaper houses pushed down the average price of homes sold in Ventura County by 2.3%, compared with a 4.2% decline in Los Angeles County and a 3.4% drop in all of Southern California, Nattagh said.
Ventura County realtors said Wednesday that first-time home buyers are taking advantage of low mortgage lending rates and cut-rate houses, keeping the county's real estate market busy--at least busier than in San Bernardino County, where housing sales fell by 16.5% since last year.
"We had a banner second quarter here," said George Kite, director of the Ventura Assn. of Realtors.
Realtors in Ventura opened 385 escrows from April to June this year, the second best quarter since 1989, Kite said. Sales were second only to the post-Gulf War buying spree of 1991, when a sudden release of pent-up demand helped Ventura realtors open 420 escrows, he said.
"For the first half of this year, we've closed in this city something over 550 escrows," Kite said. "Only 50 of those were above $250,000, so 90% were below $250,000, which tells you that it's the first-time buyers who are truly jumping in and buying houses."
East Ventura County real estate agents are also doing brisk business with first-time buyers, said Carlyn Paterson, president of the Simi Valley-Moorpark Assn. of Realtors.
"Simi Valley has always been more affordable than the San Fernando Valley and some of the other cities in Ventura County," Paterson said. "Basically, it's a very nice area to live in."
Kite and Paterson said business is bound to increase in coming months as potential buyers are spurred into action by fears that interest rates may rise again.
And Fredericks said Ventura County will always have an extra appeal for people seeking to settle outside Los Angeles County.
"You have to admit that our environment up here is (better) than Riverside (County), our air is much cleaner and, if the prices are at all competitive, people don't mind commuting from here to downtown Los Angeles," she said.
Although Southern California is still cycling through a recession with the rest of California, home sales will remain steady in Ventura County, Fredericks predicted.
"We're . . . not going to have huge peaks and valleys; it's not going to be a time when agents are writing counteroffers on the hoods of their cars," she said. "But there are buyers out there buying houses and sellers who want to sell, and as long as realtors want to do their jobs, we'll be doing well."
Real Estate Market Home sales declined more slowly in Ventura County so far this year than in other counties in Southern California.
JANUARY TO JANUARY TO PERCENTAGE COUNTY JUNE,1992 JUNE, 1993 CHANGE Ventura 4,069 3,995 -1.8% Los Angeles 37,050 33,393 -9.9% Orange 15,274 13,676 -10.5% Riverside 10,673 9,352 -12.4% San Bernardino 11,366 9,490 -16.5% San Diego 13,568 12,180 -10.2% Southern California 92,000 82,086 -10.8%
Source: TRW REDI Property Data