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Higher prices, fewer distressed sales in August

Fast-rising home prices are helping financially strapped homeowners, as fewer mortgages are underwater, pushing equity sales to the highest level in August since late 2007.

Equity sales – basically deals where homeowners walk away with money in their pocket – increased to 84.7% in August, compared to 82.9% in July and only 62% in August 2012, according to the California Association of Realtors. Equity sales have declined in 18 of the past 19 months.

Equity sales are now at the highest level since November 2007, and short sales were only 10.2% of the market in August, the lowest percentage since February 2009.

About one of every four homes with mortgages is underwater.
About one of every four homes with mortgages is underwater.

Twenty-five of the 38 counties tracked – some counties have too few sales to report – had a monthly decrease of distressed sales in August compared to July, with several counties in the single digits.

Siskiyou and Lake counties had the largest percentage of distressed sales at 37% and 34%, respectively. San Mateo County had the lowest at 3%.

Real Estate

CAR: Home prices increase 29.8% in July, sales end six-month slide

Higher interest rates failed to halt homeowners in July, as sales increased at the best pace in more than a year and double-digit price gains continued for the 13th-consecutive month.

Closed escrow sales climbed to an annual rate of 443,520 homes in July, a 7% increase from July 2012, according to the California Association of Realtors. The year-to-year sales increase was the first since December, and ended six consecutive months of declines.

Thirty-year, fixed-interest mortgage rates inched up to 4.37% in July, compared to 4.07% in June and 3.55% in July 2012.

“The spike in interest rates in June prompted homebuyers to delay escrow closings in hopes that rates would fall back,” says California Association of Realtors President Don Faught. “As buyers recognized rates had stabilized, they moved forward to close escrow, which lifted July’s sales from both the previous month and year.”

July’s median-home price – meaning half the homes sold for more, the other half for less – reached $433,760, a 29.8% increase from a year ago. Home prices have increased 17 straight months.

newport beach 1Marin County is the priciest market at $1 million – the only county above the million-dollar threshold – followed by San Mateo County at $919,000. Glenn and Siskiyou counties had the lowest median price at $140,000 in July.

“A constrained supply of homes over the past year has fueled robust home price increases, particularly in the coastal regions,” says Leslie Appleton-Young, vice president and chief economist for CAR.

“Looking ahead, we should continue to see strong price growth but at a less accelerated pace than what we’ve experienced over the past year,” she says. “Inventory areas are starting to build in some areas as price gains free up previously underwater homes and encourage homeowners reluctant to list because of the scarcity of homes to purchase.”

Some closely watched figures remained steady last month – the available supply of homes for sale was 2.9 months and the average days on the market was 29 days, according to CAR.