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May Home Sales Rise 32% in Southland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Southern California home sales continued to surge ahead in May as buyers tried to stay ahead of rising mortgage rates, figures released Thursday show.

Sales of existing and new homes in May totaled 21,471, up 32.6% from depressed year-ago levels, the strongest showing for the month since 1990, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla-based real estate services firm.

May’s strong results were in line with a recent string of robust monthly sales reports. Sales in April, for example, were up more than 40% from year-ago figures. However, some agents said this year’s strong results are partly due to the weakness of last year’s market.

“It’s great news, but it just points out how bad last year was,” said Whittier real estate broker James Joseph.

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Southern California prices also showed some improvement on a regionwide basis, but agents warned that values remain soft or continue to slide in many neighborhoods. The median sales price in May rose 1.2% from year-ago levels to $163,000 for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties, according to DataQuick.

The changes in median price varied dramatically across the region. The median in Los Angeles County, for example, remained flat at $164,000. But in Ventura, the median in May jumped 8.2% from the same month last year, to $199,000. Meanwhile, in Riverside, the median fell 2.4%, to $123,000.

Many home buyers have not been deterred by a rise in interest rates, which have recently pushed most fixed-rate mortgages above the 8% level. In fact, many people have been motivated to make a purchase to avoid even higher rates, say brokers.

“Even with rates going up into the 8% range, we have not seen a lull in the market, because buyers are afraid rates are going up [further],” said Glendora real estate broker Marty Rodriguez.

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Some brokers have noticed a rise in the sale of more expensive move-up homes that used to languish unsold in the market as buyers snapped up less-expensive properties.

“We are seeing more homes in the $300,000 to $600,000 range selling than in the past,” said Pasadena real estate agent Roland Wilhelm.

In Diamond Bar, Century 21 sales manager Linda Moore said her office sold a large number of expensive homes--some selling for as much as $600,000--that pushed her office’s monthly dollar-sales results to near-record levels. Normally, most homes sell below $200,000, she said.

“It’s unusual,” Moore said of the high-priced home sales.

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