Bay Area home sales tumble last month; prices fall from December

Rows of homes in San Francisco.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

San Francisco Bay Area home prices took a seasonal dip in January from a month earlier, while sales plunged to a six-year low for the month as high prices and tight inventory handcuffed buyers.

The median sales price in the Bay Area fell 4.3% from December, to $525,000 in January, research firm DataQuick said Thursday. Still, compared with January of last year, prices are up 26.5%.

Across the nine-county region, 4,696 new and resale houses and condos sold in January, the lowest level for the month since 2008, as buyers struggled with higher prices and few homes for sale. Sales fell 14.6% from January 2013.

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The median price -- the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less -- tends to decline in January from a month before, DataQuick said. Most buyers who closed a deal last month were out shopping around the holidays, a slower time with fewer families out looking for a home.

That saps demand and gives investors a larger role in the marketplace. Investors usually target more affordable houses, and that can send the median down.

Absentee buyers, mostly investors and some second-home buyers, purchased a greater share of properties last month -- 24.2% of homes sold, compared with 22.5% in December.

“Mid-winter numbers don’t really tell us much about upcoming activity. March is much more predictive,” DataQuick President John Walsh said in a statement. “This spring should be interesting. We may find out how much pent-up supply and demand is still on hold from the great recession, and how it will play itself out.”

The region’s median price has risen sharply in the last year, as the robust technology industry has supercharged demand. However, the median price remains below the peak reached during last decade’s bubble, when prices topped out at $665,000 in summer 2007.