Thursday, November 1, 2007

With State In Slump, Ojai Home Sales Rise

Sales rally pushes closings to highest tally since 2003

By Daryl Kelley

Amid a deepening housing recession in Southern California, the Ojai area has experienced a sales rally thanks to a flurry of purchases of expensive homes in late summer and early fall, new data shows.
Completed sales of single family homes and condos were the highest since 2003 in September and October for the 93023 zip code, which includes Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and the Upper Ojai, according to an Orange County data firm.
Twenty-four escrows closed in September, the highest number for that month since 54 closed during the furious real estate run-up in 2003. September’s total was also the most sales in the Ojai area zip code in the last 14 months.
October could turn out to be even more impressive, since 21 sales were recorded during the first three weeks of the month, up from 12 for the same month in 2006, 15 in 2005 and 18 in 2004. There were 30 for October in 2003.
Those figures are based on escrows of houses and condos recorded with Ventura County and reflect actual sales begun during the previous 30 to 60 days, according to Melissa Data Corporation of Rancho Santa Margarita.
By comparison Southern California home sales reached their lowest level in more than 20 years in September, and were only about half of what they were for the same month in 2006.
“Ojai is a surprise,” said Zack Lyon, of Melissa Data. “Most of the region is going the other way.”
But some Ojai real estate agents were not surprised. They said that after a few skittish months during the spring and summer, buyers are coming back, especially for upper-end homes. And sellers are becoming more realistic about their prices.
“I’m seeing a big surge,” said agent Sharon MaHarry, with Coldwell Banker. ‘’Prices are more affordable. Sellers have decided that if they’re going to sell, they better sell right now, because a lot of people think prices are going to come down even more.”
With prices more affordable, buyers who’d been on the fence for months, have jumped for deals with prices down tens of thousands of dollars from just a few months ago.
Prices for homes and condos in the city of Ojai alone were down $93,000 from 12 months earlier to a median of $542,000, according to DataQuick Information Systems.
“The buyers have gotten the message that they can get good deals right now,” MaHarry said. “And if you have good credit, you can get a loan. It’s kind of energized the market. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
Average home sales prices — as opposed to the median price DataQuick reports — surged to $889,000 in September and $760,000 in October, according to Melissa Data. Those were the highest average prices for those two months ever, showing that expensive homes are selling even better than usual in this affluent community, agents said.
The median price is the point where half of the homes sell for more and half for less. The average price is the total value of sold homes divided by the number of homes.
“These numbers don’t surprise me,” said Gold Coast ReMax broker Don Edwards. “We’re ahead of last year in sales. You can only keep people who want to make a move down for so long before they make that move. People put it off, but they finally have to go.”
Edwards noted that the average mortgage rate for jumbo loans exceeding $417,000 is at 6.37 percent, the lowest in two years, and coming down even more.
“The upper end of the market is a little busier,” he said. And most of his sales are from Los Angeles buyers, who think the Ojai prices are pretty good.
It hasn’t hurt the Ojai market, which was bulging with an early summer inventory of 250 houses, and has now fallen to 189, Edwards said. That has occurred because of the recent increase in sales, and because some sellers have pulled their properties off the market until it becomes stronger.
“Our inventory is not that good right now, and we’ll see what that scarcity does to prices,” MaHarry said. “But right now it’s a good buyers’ market, and it isn’t horrific for sellers. So deals are being made.”
Dawn Shook, executive officer of the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors, said member agents sold just 12 homes in September and 15 in October, but that does not consider sales by owners without assistance from an agent or the rising number of sales by banks or lenders after foreclosure.
“Over a million dollars, seems to be a good market right now,” she said. “That is where our sales are coming from.”
Foreclosure sales have swept the California housing market in recent months. But so far the Ojai Valley has fared fairly well because expensive properties in attractive communities continue to sell better than marginal properties in low-income areas, said Jaime Diaz, an Ojai resident who specializes in selling foreclosed homes.
There have now been 25 foreclosure sales or notices of default in the last three months, he said. Another eight properties in default are listed on the valley multiple listings. So that’s 33 properties that have sold or will make their way to the market he said.
“Sales have picked up,” he said. “The problem is getting buyers to qualify right now. But if you have the traditional 10 percent down payment, you can qualify.
“It’s definitely a better time to buy than a year ago,” he added. “Great deals are out there, but there may be even better deals later on.”

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