L.A. County Home Prices Level Off

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The Los Angeles Basin may have reached a plateau.

For the third month in a row, the median price of a Los Angeles County home was flat at about $407,000 in September as the annual rate of appreciation hovered in the low-20% range, data showed today.

At the same time, the number of homes sold last month declined 7.8% to 10,501 compared to a year ago when 11,395 homes closed escrow to make September 2003 the strongest in 15 years, according to DataQuick Information Systems, the La Jolla-based firm that compiles monthly housing statistics.

What the latest numbers illustrate, said Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser, is that "sanity" may be returning to the local housing market.

"Buyers aren't jumping at everything" that is put up for sale and "sellers have had to readjust their price expectations," said Kyser, who heads the L.A. County Economic Development Corp.

Still, Los Angeles hasn't yet seen any "significant" decreases in prices, said John Karevoll, DataQuick's chief analyst. Last month, the median price — the point at which half of all homes sell for more, half for less — rose 21.1% from a year ago. That followed a 20.7% increase in August and a 23.4% gain in July.

What's more, month-to-month appreciation beginning in July didn't decline, though the rate barely budged. (July's median price was $406,000, while August and September both clocked in at $407,000.)

Karevoll attributed the flattening median to a leveling off of price increases in higher-end neighborhoods while lower-cost markets still soar. For instance, in the Antelope Valley community of Lancaster, the median price rose 42% to $235,000 last month compared to a year ago.

In September, the median price of an existing house rose 22% to $425,000 vs. a year ago, while sales fell 6.2%. In the condominium market, the median of an existing unit increased 25% to $331,000 while sales declined 11.5%. Newly built homes rose 7.6% to a median of $442,500 while sales fell 13%, according to DataQuick.

Housing data for the remaining Southern California counties are expected Wednesday.