Defying the usual fall slowdown, home sales last month in Los Angeles and Orange counties hit the highest level for any October since 1988 as buyers continued to jump into the market for fear of missing out on historically low interest rates.
Sales of new and previously owned single-family houses and condominiums in Los Angeles County rose 13% from October 2002. Sales increased by 9% in Orange County, according to La Jolla-based DataQuick Information Systems.
And November, usually one of the slowest sales months of the year, also appears to be shaping up to be a record buster.
"Our [third quarter] was up 48%, in terms of sales volume" compared with 2002, said Peter Hernandez, president of Coldwell Banker Orange County. "And November looks stronger than October."
November and February typically are the slowest months as would-be buyers prepare for and then recuperate from the holidays, said John Karevoll, a DataQuick analyst.
"That said, I fully expect this November to be the strongest we have had since 1988," he said.
Home sale prices in October also kept growing at a sizzling pace: The median price in Los Angeles County climbed 22% from a year ago to about $332,000 last month, although prices dipped from September's median price of $336,000.
In Orange County, median home prices hit a new record of about $440,000, a 19% increase from a year ago, and up 2% from September's median sale price of $431,000.
Because DataQuick uses public records listing all closed escrows, its figures will differ somewhat from those issued next week by the California Assn. of Realtors, which does not include homes sold by the owner or new-home sales.
Based on figures expected to be released today, the median price in Riverside County last month increased by 19% from a year ago to about $262,000.
In San Bernardino County, where wildfires disrupted some sales in late October, the median price last month jumped 24% from October 2002 to about $204,000, down slightly from the $207,000 record set in August.
And in Ventura County, home buyers saw a 21% price hike in October from a year earlier to $401,000.
Karevoll predicted that monthly price hikes on a year-over-year basis would hover around 20% until they slow to 13% to 14% by the spring. The big draw remains relatively low interest rates, though they have edged up from summer lows.
As of Thursday, the average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.03%, up 82 basis points from June's 5.21%. Karevoll predicted that by the end of 2004, mortgage rates would jump to 6.7%.
The brisk demand has kept 27-year real estate veteran Coby Myers-Griffin working seven days a week recently.
"The number of people calling and wanting to list has been much stronger than anything that I can remember" for the fall, said Myers-Griffin, who works with Century 21 Sparrow-Shoreline in Long Beach.
While real estate agents are fielding calls from would-be buyers, soaring prices have pushed the dream of homeownership further out of reach for many moderate-income people.
"Increasingly, first-time potential home buyers are forced out of the market, and this means California will continue to have the second-lowest homeownership rate in the country" according to federal figures, said Bob Gnaizda, general counsel for the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit San Francisco group that promotes homeownership among low- to moderate-income families.
A Greenlining study to be released next week shows that scant numbers of African American and Latino families with moderate incomes got conventional home loans last year in California.
"We think that's a housing crisis," Gnaizda said.