Home sales inch up in California as prices fall

Home sales were up slightly in January across California, and the statewide median price fell, as investors flooded Southern California and the share of distressed home sales jumped in the Bay Area.

The housing market is one of the few sectors of the economy that is still suffering. A report by San Diego research firm DataQuick indicated that housing continued to limp along last month in the Golden State.

The state's median home price fell to $236,000, down 1.3% from January 2011. The median — the point at which half the homes in the state are sold for more and half for less — has fallen for 16 consecutive months on a year-over-year basis.

Foreclosures, tight mortgage credit and high unemployment in the state remain significant impediments to a housing recovery, though experts warn that the first month of the year rarely is an indicator of where the market is going because of the small pool of buyers involved.

"The higher-end sales have slowed in recent months as many struggle to qualify for loans and others just sit tight," DataQuick President John Walsh said.

Statewide sales of previously owned and newly built homes were up 1.5% in January, marking the sixth consecutive month that year-over-year sales in California have improved. January sales fell 25.5% from December, though a decline from December to January is normal.

Short sales and foreclosures made up more than half of the market last month.

In Southern California, the median home price fell to $260,000, down 3.7% from a year earlier, and sales were mostly flat, increasing 0.4%.

In the Bay Area, the median price fell to $326,000, down 3.6% from a year earlier, while sales rose to their highest level for a January in five years, jumping 10.3% from January 2011.

Separately, a report on foreclosure errors released by the San Francisco County office of the assessor-recorder indicated more than 80% of a sample of foreclosures between January 2000 and October 2011 showed some kind of mistake.

State Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris said she was reviewing the "deeply troubling" report and would introduce legislation that would get tougher on faulty foreclosure practices.


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