Bay Area Home Sales Strengthening

The Bay Area housing market had the strongest January sales in six years and the tenth straight year-over-year increase in the median sale price, according to a real estate information service.

A total of 5,501 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county Bay Area last month. That was down 28.4% from 7,688 in December, and up 3.2% from 5,330 for January a year ago, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

Sales always drop from December to January. While still below the long-term January average of 6,094, last month’s sales count was the strongest since 6,168 homes were sold in 2007. The strongest January in DataQuick’s records, which go back to 1988, was in 2005 when 8,298 homes sold. The slowest sales were in 2008, when 3,586 sold.

“When we look carefully at underlying trends, it’s obvious that the market is still far from normal. The mortgage market is still dysfunctional. Relative sales rates between categories are lopsided. That said, the market imbalances are moving toward normalcy, with baby steps,” said DataQuick president John Walsh in a press release.

On a statewide basis, foreclosure starts have been dropping, the company noted.

The median price paid for a home in the nine-county Bay Area was $415,000 in January. That was down 6.3% from $442,750 in December, and up 27.3% from $326,000 in January a year ago.

A drop in the median sale price from December to January is normal for the season. At least half of the year-over-year increase in the January median is the result of changes in market mix, with sales shifting away from low-cost distress homes toward more midmarket and move-up homes.