Shrugging off war fears, buyers pushed up the median price of a Ventura County home nearly 15% last month to match a record $348,000 first reached in December.
Home prices were $45,000 higher than during the same month last year, according to statistics released by DataQuick Information Systems. Although 138 fewer homes sold in February, an 11.2% drop from the previous year, the sale of 1,095 new and existing single family homes and condominiums is still considered impressive.
"Keep in mind, this was the second strongest February ever; it just wasn't as strong as last year," said John Karevoll, an analyst with DataQuick. "It's not like we're in trouble here."
For perspective, the next-highest volume of February sales occurred in 2000, when 971 homes sold and Ventura County's median price was $259,000.
"Finding anything under $300,000 nowadays is virtually impossible, unless it's a condo," said Harriet Clune, a real estate broker who concentrates in Camarillo, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Prospective buyers still call and visit open houses in large numbers and many sellers receive several purchase offers, she said.
Karevoll said he expects Ventura County home prices to go even higher this month, despite the onset of war in Iraq.
In the past two years, median home prices have been higher in March than in February, with an increase of $9,000 in 2002 and $25,000 the year before.
"I would almost take it for granted we will see a new record," he said.
The number of homes sold might drop amid concerns about the war, but any fallout would be erased in just a matter of months, Karevoll said.
"We may see a pause in the sales activity, but they will catch right back up as we go forward in the spring."
An economist who specializes in Ventura County agrees that the real estate market has not been hampered by international events.
"I don't think the war is having any effect on prices," said Mark Schniepp, director of California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara. "If it had, you wouldn't have seen anything like [the price increases] we've seen the last six or seven months. War is like a sporting event to us ... a distant competitive event that's on television."
Economists like to speculate on when the seemingly unstoppable advance in Southern California real estate prices might end, Karevoll said. Most believe the rate of appreciation would likely ease by midyear from a current annualized rate of 20% and end 2003 at about 15%, a bit below a 16.9% hike for all of 2002.
"Nobody thinks prices are going to go down," Karevoll said. "That's just not in the cards."
DataQuick figures show year-over-year median prices rising in all categories -- from 18.5% for existing homes to nearly 24% for new homes, which had a median price of $505,500. One factor supporting new home prices is that fewer residences are being built, Karevoll said. Last month, 131 new homes sold, nearly a 48% drop from 251 sold in February 2002.
Kathy Mehringer, branch manager of Coldwell Banker Residential's Westlake Village Center office, said a dearth of available homes is a problem across the board.
"We have the demand; we just don't have enough supply," she said. "With all the uncertainty we're facing globally, people are drawn more than ever to the home environment. It's about feeling secure and having a place to be."
Mehringer and others point to historically low mortgage interest rates to explain why so many people are still in the market to purchase.
With interest rates at about 5.5%, Karevoll said it actually costs less to buy a median-priced home at today's higher prices than it did 14 years ago -- near the top of the last housing boom.
For example, he said the monthly principal and interest payment on a 30-year, fixed mortgage on today's median priced home, based on a 20% down payment, is about $1,585. In the spring of 1989, the median price in Ventura was $228,000, but interest rates of more than 11.3% meant an owner's monthly payment was $1,782.
And when you adjust that figure for inflation, Karevoll said, the homeowner would save more than 37% each month, because in today's dollars the 1989 mortgage would cost the equivalent of $2,530.
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Annual sales and median prices for real estate in Ventura County in February compared with the previous year. The figures include new and resale homes and condominiums.
*--* Sales Sales Median prices City ZIP Code 2002 2003 2002 2003 Camarillo 93010 59 44 $305,000 $385,000 93012 74 60 $333,500 $384,000 Fillmore 93015 12 15 $215,000 $275,000 Moorpark 93021 75 47 $347,000 $334,000 Oak Park 91377 32 28 $367,000 $477,000 Ojai 93023 16 21 $310,000 $370,000 Oxnard 93030 99 88 $254,750 $310,000 93033 60 68 $212,000 $197,500 93035 44 39 $274,500 $320,000 Port Hueneme 93041 33 33 $164,500 $226,000 Santa Paula 93060 22 30 $199,000 $212,500 Simi Valley 93063 132 75 $287,000 $283,000 93065 116 109 $289,500 $339,000 Thousand Oaks 91320 108 107 $408,500 $500,000 91360 68 68 $316,500 $388,000 91361 15 18 $480,000 $607,500 91362 72 50 $410,000 $470,000 Ventura 93001 41 39 $295,000 $285,000 93003 86 63 $283,500 $351,000 93004 36 34 $304,000 $395,000 Countywide 1,233 1,095 $303,000 $348,000
Source: DataQuick Information Systems Inc.
Note: Countywide totals include sales with unknown ZIP Codes. Median prices include unincorporated areas not shown.