Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ojai Prices Drop Less Than County

Real estate prices drop $10,000 off median in Ojai, compared to $35,000 countywide

By Daryl Kelley
Ojai showed its resiliency during the deepening real estate recession of 2007, as home prices held relatively firm and sales were off far less than in most other parts of Ventura County and Southern California, according to new figures.
The median price of a home or condo sold in the Ojai area in 2007 was $640,000, off just $10,000 from the year before and only $21,000 below the peak of the market in 2005, reported DataQuick Information Systems this week. Those numbers are for the 93023 ZIP code, which includes Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and the Upper Ojai.
That median price — where half the homes sell for more and half for less — compares with a drop of $35,000 for homes and condos for Ventura County as a whole.
Meanwhile, total sales for the Ojai area ZIP code fell 15 percent from 2006, dropping from 250 to 213. But that compares to a 29 percent drop for Ventura County overall.
The Ojai area, which has relatively small homes, also remained one of the top ZIP codes in the county for price per square foot: Ojai homes brought $461 per square foot, compared with a countywide average of $350. That placed Ojai second in the county, trailing only downtown Ventura, which also has many small houses, and surpassing upscale Westlake Village.
“We have a really unique area and it’s still very desirable to move up here,” said Ojai real estate broker Jeri Becker. “The market’s down everywhere. But compared with elsewhere, it’s doing really well up here.”
The same cannot be said for the Ojai Valley area that includes Oak View, where sales were off 44 percent last year compared with 2006 and the median sales price was off $49,000 to $525,000.
Riki Strandfeldt, president of the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors in 2007, said buyers often associate Oak View more with Ventura than with Ojai, and prices and sales may follow accordingly. “In Oak View, the schools are Ventura and they may shop in Ventura. So it’s, do you want to be part of Ojai or Ventura?”
Even with the city of Ojai’s relatively good news, analysts said things are still slowing down as foreclosures prompted by lending money to unqualified buyers have accelerated in the last half of 2007 and threaten to get worse this year.
Indeed, home sales completed in November and December in both the Ojai and Oak View ZIP codes were the lowest in at least eight years. After strong September and October sales, sales in the last two months in the Ojai area were only 14 and 12, respectively. And only four homes were sold in the first two weeks of January. In Oak View, just one escrow had closed in the first half of this month.
“The market is still very sluggish,” said Coldwell Banker broker Larry Wilde. “And we’re going to see the next six months being very volatile, because foreclosures are going to saturate the market.”
But Wilde, who has sold real estate in Ojai for 33 years, said he thinks he sees light at the end of 2008.
“Toward the end of the year I think we’re going to hit bottom,” he said. “So this year is a window of opportunity. We’ve got rates mortgage rates at 5-1/4 percent for 30 years, which is unbelievably low. And with prices going down, this will be a time to get back into the market.”
Wilde said his office, the Property Shoppe, has 22 new home listings this month alone.
Strandfeldt concurs that 2008 will be a turn-around year.
“I think with the new year, people are a little bit more upbeat,” she said. “The soothsayers say there’s a year’s worth of foreclosures yet. But I think people might want to jump back in before it bottoms out.”
Strandfeldt said she thinks the surge will occur in spring, the traditional time of movement in the real estate market. And some sellers who’ve been reluctant to list their properties because foreclosures are bringing down prices might be willing to list by then, she said.
Ojai Valley home and condo listings totaled more than 200 early last fall, and now stand at 168, Strandfeldt said. But she thinks that is more of a reflection of a seasonal pull-back rather than owners pulling their properties off the market to wait out the downturn.
“There is some of that, people just wanting to wait this thing out,” she said.
But she said she thinks Ojai will continue to survive the nationwide housing tumble because of its artsy, small-town allure.
“Ojai embodies that small-town feel, and there’s value in that,” she said. “Ojai has an upper-end allure. It’s one and a half hours out of L.A. And it has hiking and art and culture and equestrian pursuits. So the question for (Angelenos) is do they want to fly six hours to Montana for those things, or do they want to drive one and a half hours to Ojai?”

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