Sacramento County home prices turned upward in 2009

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Courtesy of SacBee-

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Published: Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 6B

New December statistics paint 2009 as the year when

Sacramento County home prices finally ended a dramatic four-year free fall.

Median sales prices for new and existing homes combined rose 0.6 percent in 2009, property researcher MDA DataQuick reported Thursday. The percentage represents a welcome change for thousands of anxious Sacramento County homeowners who saw their values drop 20 percent in 2007 and plunge another 37 percent in 2008.

The newest numbers reveal a 2009 real estate market prodded by government stimulus, more than five months of interest rates below 5 percent and plenty of cheap bank repos in its early months. The year also brought an $8,000 first-time homebuyer federaltax credit and several months of a similar $10,000 state tax credit for buyers of new houses.

Prices for Sacramento County resale homes alone closed at $178,000 for the year, up 2.4 percent from the start of 2009, DataQuick reported. It was a second straight month to beat the previous year – after 41 months of annual losses.

“That’s probably because of the slowdown in (bank repo) sales,” said Bob Bronswick, Roseville-based president and chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. “And if you look at it, our primary market is entry level. There’s been such demand for it, and prices over the asking price. We’ve garnered a lot of multiple offers.”

DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage said Sacramento County sales under $100,000 fell from a year earlier while rising slightly in the $500,000 and $800,000 categories.

The reversal of a long downward trend in prices appeared inside a December report showing that capital-area homeowners closed 40,534 escrows in 2009. The tally was 496 escrows shy of 2008 in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties, DataQuick reported. While robust for a market pocked with foreclosures, job cuts and anxiety, the annual total was one of the lowest since 1998, DataQuick records show.

“Everything I have in escrow right now is a short sale,” said Roseville-based ReMax real estate agent Jaye Crews. Those are sales, increasingly common in distressed newer neighborhoods, in which banks accept offers below what they’re owed. For Crews, short sales and first-time buyers have largely taken the place of her earlier bread and butter – move-up buyers.

The Sacramento Association of Realtors says one in four December sales in Sacramento County and West Sacramento were short sales. DataQuick said Thursday that 50.6 percent of Sacramento County sales were bank repos. That’s down from 71 percent as 2009 opened.

This continued prevalence of short sales and repos shows that the market – while it’s more stable – is still not normal. Collectively, Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties remain mired in 12.4 percent unemployment.

As 2010 begins, almost 12 percent of the four-county region’s mortgages are late, in the foreclosure process or tied to bank-owned homes, according to First American CoreLogic. That’s a sizable increase from 7 percent at the beginning of 2009, when unemployment was 8.7 percent.

DataQuick reported that 3,450 new and existing homes changed hands in December in the eight-county region, beating 3,183 sales in November. December sales normally rise from November.

While prices have largely stabilized in Sacramento County they’re still under pressure in Placer County, where homes are more expensive. Prices in Placer County finished 2009 down 13.6 percent.

“A lot of stuff is still highly discounted in Lincoln Hills,” said Crews. “We’re definitely seeing stability in markets and places where there aren’t a lot of houses for sale. But, boy, in those new-home tracts even six or seven years old. Ouch.”

With so many newer houses being resold, new homes accounted for just 9 percent of capital-area sales in 2009. That’s down from 25 percent market share in the boom that spanned 2002 to 2006.

Many in real estate circles believe 2010 will proceed with less artificial stimulus. The federal tax credit expires at the end of April. And Wednesday, the Federal Home Administration, which insures many first-time buyer loans, announced it will charge higher fees and require higher down payments from buyers with credit scores below 580. At least 40 percent of Sacramento-area loans in 2009 were FHA loans.

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