Southern California home prices hit 6-month high

Sales of high-end homes lifted prices to a six-month high in Southern California in March, as the region’s housing market remained in a gradual recovery, a research firm said Tuesday.

There were 19,953 new and existing homes and condos sold in a six-county region, up 2.8 percent from a year earlier, DataQuick said, marking the third-straight annual increase and the seventh in eight months.

The median price was $280,000, down 0.2 percent from the same time last year and matching the highest level since September.

Sales rose sharply from February, reflecting a usual seasonal increase as spring begins.

“The year is young and lots could still change, but the results from the first big sales month of 2012 suggest the market is stuck in low gear. This remains a very gradual, not to mention fragile, recovery,” said John Walsh, president of the San Diego-based research firm.

Sales of homes for at least $500,000 jumped 36 percent in March from February, outpacing the total sales increase of 28.1 percent for those months, DataQuick said.

DataQuick said about half of the purchases of existing homes were distressed sales. Homes that were foreclosed upon in the previous year made up 31.1 percent of existing home sales. Short sales – where the seller owes more than the purchase price – accounted for 18.9 percent.

Absentee buyers – largely investors and second-home purchasers – continued to drive the recovery, buying 28 percent of all homes. That’s down from 29.9 percent in February but up from 26.2 percent in the year-ago period.

Results varied between coastal and less expensive inland areas. In Orange County, sales jumped 9.2 percent while prices dropped 7 percent. In Riverside County, sales slipped 2.3 percent while prices rose 1 percent.

Homes are selling more quickly near the coast than they did last year, while it’s taking more time in some inland areas, according to the California Association of Realtors. In Orange County, it has taken a median of 70.2 days to sell a home, down from 79 days last year. In Riverside County, it’s taking 58.5 days, up from 52.5 days last year.

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