California home sales surge in December, capping year of strong sales and rising prices



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SAN DIEGO — California home sales surged in December, capping a year of steady sales growth and modest price gains, a research firm said Wednesday.

The median price of new and existing single-family homes and condominiums reached $415,000, up 0.6 percent from $412,500 in November and up 7.8 percent from $385,000 in December 2014, CoreLogic Inc. said. It was the 46th straight month of annual price gains in percentage terms, though increases have been single-digit for nearly two years.

"Overall the story, especially in California, is we continue to slow down, but it's actually not a bad thing," said Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. "We're reaching more sustainable levels of home value appreciation."

There were 40,230 homes sold in California during December, up 26.8 percent from November and up 12.6 percent from December 2014.

The sales spike followed a steep decline in November. Federal requirements introduced in October that gave borrowers more time to review loan estimates may have delayed some sales from November to December, CoreLogic analyst Andrew LePage said.

December is typically a stronger month than November as buyers and sellers seek to wrap up purchases by the end of the year for tax and other reasons, LePage said.

The results ended the year on a strong note, with the number of homes sold in California during 2015 rising 8.2 percent from 2014. Analysts credit a relatively strong economy and low interest rates, though tight supplies and lack of affordability kept a lid on sales.

Less expensive, inland markets — notably Contra Costa and Solano counties in the San Francisco Bay Area — helped drive sales in 2015, LePage said.

Supplies remained unusually thin. The California Association of Realtors says there was a 2.8-month supply of single-family homes in California in December, well below what is considered normal supply of five to seven months.

"California is very hard-hit by tightness at the bottom end of the market," Zillow's Gudell said. "That's where we've seen the tightest inventory."

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the median sales price climbed to $655,000 in December, up 0.8 percent from $650,000 in November and up 12.9 percent from $580,000 in December 2014, CoreLogic said. There were 7,876 sales in the nine-county region, up 26.5 percent from November and up 17.4 percent from December 2014.

In Southern California, the median sales price was $443,000, up 1 percent from $438,500 in November and up 6.7 percent from $415,000 in December 2014. There were 20,890 sales in the six-county region, up 33 percent from November and up 9.8 percent from December 2014.

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