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CAR - California Housing Market Accelerates in March

California’s housing market continued to pick up steam as existing home sales and prices propelled higher, with both posting back-to-back increases in March, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS said today.

Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 391,680 units in March, according to information collected by C.A.R. from more than 90 local REALTOR® associations and MLSs statewide.  Sales in March were up 6.3 percent from a revised 368,400 in February and up 7.3 percent from a revised 365,120 in March 2014.  The year-over-year sales increase was the first back-to-back sales gain since December 2012 and the largest observed since May 2012. The statewide sales figure represents what would be the total number of homes sold during 2015 if sales maintained the March pace throughout the year.  It is adjusted to account for seasonal factors that typically influence home sales.

“The housing market is picking up momentum and continuing its upward trend as economic conditions improved throughout the state”, said C.A.R. President Chris Kutzkey. “A better economy, improved job creation, and an increase in inventory in Central Valley and Southern California, in particular, are pushing sales higher, which led to the strongest February-to-March increase we’ve seen since 2008.”

The median price of an existing, single-family detached California home jumped in March from both the previous month and year. The median home price was up 9.2 percent from $428,970 in February to $468,550 in March, the highest level in seven months. The increase was stronger than the long-run February-to-March average of 3.9 percent. March’s median price was 7.2 percent higher than the revised $437,100 recorded in March 2014. The median sales price is the point at which half of homes sold for more and half sold for less; it is influenced by the types of homes selling as well as a general change in values.

With home sales growing at a faster rate than active listings in March, the available supply of existing, single-family detached homes for sale statewide declined, with the Unsold Inventory Index falling from the 5 months reported in February to 3.8 months in March.  The index, which indicates the number of months needed to sell the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate, stood at 4 months in March 2014.  A six- to seven-month supply is considered typical in a normal market.

“While housing supply has been improving in real terms in recent months, the growth rate in housing demand continues to outpace that of inventory, pushing the Unsold Inventory Index lower,” said C.A.R Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young. “The shortage in housing units relative to demand, along with the attractive rate environment, pushed home prices higher.”

Other key facts from C.A.R.’s March 2015 resale housing report include:

• The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home also fell in March, down from 47 days in February to 39 days in March but was up from 35.1 days in March 2014.

• According to C.A.R.’s newest housing market indicator measuring sales-to-list price ratio*, properties are again generally selling below the list price, except in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a lack of homes for sale is pushing sales prices higher than original asking prices.  The statewide measure suggests that homes are selling at a median of 98.3 percent of the list price, essentially flat compared to a ratio of 98.6 percent at the same time last year. The Bay Area is the only region where homes are selling above original list prices due to constrained supply with a ratio of 105.9 percent.

• The average California price per square foot** for an existing single-family home was $223 in March 2015, an increase of 6.1 percent from the previous month and a 5.6 percent increase from March 2014.  Price per square foot at the state level has been showing an upward trend since early 2012, and has been rising on a year-over-year basis for 38 consecutive months.  In recent months, however, the growth rate in price per square foot has slowed down as home prices level off.  San Francisco County had the highest price per square foot in March at $761/sq. ft., followed by San Mateo ($741/sq. ft.), and Santa Clara ($566/sq. ft.).  The three counties with the lowest price per square foot in March were Siskiyou ($112/sq. ft.), Tehama ($115/sq. ft.), and Madera ($115/sq. ft.).

• Mortgage rates moved upward in March, with the 30-year, fixed-mortgage interest rate averaging 3.77 percent, up from 3.71 percent in February but down from 4.34 percent in March 2014, according to Freddie Mac.  Adjustable-mortgage interest rates also rose in March, averaging 2.46 percent, up from 2.43 percent in February but down from 2.48 percent in March 2014.

Note:  The County MLS median price and sales data in the tables are generated from a survey of more than 90 associations of REALTORS® throughout the state, and represent statistics of existing single-family detached homes only.  County sales data are not adjusted to account for seasonal factors that can influence home sales.  Movements in sales prices should not be interpreted as changes in the cost of a standard home.  The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical than average prices, which are skewed by a relatively small share of transactions at either the lower-end or the upper-end. Median prices can be influenced by changes in cost, as well as changes in the characteristics and the size of homes sold.  Due to the low sales volume in some areas, median price changes in March exhibit unusual fluctuation. The change in median prices should not be construed as actual price changes in specific homes.

*Sales-to-list price ratio is an indicator that reflects the negotiation power of home buyers and home sellers under current market conditions.  The ratio is calculated by dividing the final sales price of a property by its last list price and is expressed as a percentage.  A sales-to-list ratio with 100 percent or above suggests that the property sold for more than the list price, and a ratio below 100 percent indicates that the price sold below the asking price. 

**Price per square foot is a measure commonly used by real estate agents and brokers to determine how much a square foot of space a buyer will pay for a property.  It is calculated as the sale price of the home divided by the number of finished square feet.  C.A.R. currently tracks price-per-square foot statistics for 33 counties.   

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