December real estate activity in the Bay Area mirrored the rest of the year’s activity — sales slowly gained while prices dropped.
Home sales increased 4.4 percent from December of 2010, market researcher DataQuick reported Wednesday, marking the sixth consecutive month Bay Area home sales rose on a year-over-year basis. In the same period, the median price declined 6.3 percent, falling to $351,500.
The loss of value in Bay Area homes has been a developing trend since the mortgage crisis struck in 2007. From the beginning of that year to the end of 2011, the loss in home value in five Bay Area counties was $387 billion, a 33 percent decline. That figure — calculated by DataQuick for the Bay Area News Group based on the average price per square foot paid for housing — is necessarily an estimate, because it’s based on the value of houses sold, and the types of homes sold in both periods.
Contra Costa County was hit the hardest, followed by Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco, in that order. There was a wide variation within counties, with some areas hit harder than others.
DataQuick president John Walsh said the pattern reflects the drive to find bargains in the distressed Bay Area housing market, for which DataQuick examines 10 counties in the region.
“Many of the deals that did make their way through the system were in the distressed arena — foreclosures and short sales. Much of it was deeply discounted cashAdvertisement
purchases, disproportionately at the lower end of the price scale,” Walsh said in the San Diego-based company’s news release.
Sales of homes that had been foreclosed upon within the previous 12 months accounted for 28.6 percent of homes resold in the Bay Area in December, DataQuick reported, though that metric decreased from 30.1 percent in December 2010. Short sales — which is when a house sells for less than the remainder of what was owed on the property — were about 21 percent of Bay Area homes resold in December, up from 18.1 percent a year earlier.
The biggest Bay Area decrease in median price for new and resale homes and condos for the month of December was in San Mateo County, where the median price dived from $560,000 in December 2010 to $500,000 in the same month last year, a decline of 10.7 percent. Sales declined on the Peninsula as well, dropping 2.3 percent from the same month in the previous year.
Santa Clara County also experienced a drop in sales from the year before, falling 2.1 percent from 1,646 homes sold in December 2010 to 1,616 sold last month. Alameda and Contra Costa counties were more in line with the overall Bay Area trend: Alameda County experienced a 4.5 percent increase in sales, hitting 1,584 homes sold, and a 5.5 percent decrease in median price, to $328,000; Contra Costa County’s home sales rose 3.1 percent year-over-year, to 1,534, with the median price dropping 2.3 percent to $259,000.
Extreme examples of the trend occurred in the North Bay, with Sonoma and Marin counties experiencing double-digit growth in year-over-year home sales and large dips in median price at the same time. Sonoma County’s home sales increased 17 percent to 538, while the median price fell 9.8 percent to $279,500; 280 homes were sold in Marin County in December, a 23.9 percent increase from the same month in 2010, while the median price declined 13.6 percent in the same period to $517,818.
While the volatility of prices has caused stress among realtors, experts say it is the perfect time to buy a home — if you can qualify for a loan in the tough credit market.
“We’re going to see prices stabilize,” Ken Rosen, chairman at the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at UC Berkeley, said late last year. “It’s already happening in pockets like Silicon Valley and San Francisco. If you want to buy a house, it’s probably the best time in California in 30 years.”
Staff writer Pete Carey contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.