There’s a pandemic, but Southern California home prices are at record levels

In the middle of a global pandemic, Southern California home prices keep setting records.



a man standing on a sidewalk in front of a building: A home for sale last year in Burbank. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)


© (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
A home for sale last year in Burbank. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The six-county region’s median price reached $600,000 in August, up 12.1% from a year earlier, according to data released Wednesday by DQNews.

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That was the largest percentage increase since 2014 and the third consecutive month during which prices set a new all-time high. Sales rose 2.4% from a year earlier.

The price leap may seem unlikely amid double-digit unemployment, but analysts said the trend reflects the uneven effect of the coronavirus and its economic fallout.

Compared with low-wage workers, people who tend to have the financial ability to buy homes have been less likely to lose their jobs and, in some ways, their ability to purchase a house has only expanded.

Interest rates have plunged, with the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage now below 3%. And many typical entertainment and recreational activities are still closed or operating at reduced capacity, leading some households to save more at the very time they realize they could use much more space.

Part of the sharp increase in the median is simply its definition.

The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less and thus reflects not only actual increases in value but also the types of homes selling at any given moment.

Because the economic downturn has fallen unevenly on different segments of society, there’s been a sales shift toward the top end of the market, said Jordan Levine, deputy chief economist at the California Assn. of Realtors.

Homes that sold for $1 million or more accounted for 22% of all homes sold in California last month, up from 16% in August 2019, the trade group’s data show. The share of homes that sold for less than $500,000 fell to 38% of all sales in August, down from 46% a year earlier.

But real estate agents say they are also seeing an increase in bidding wars on individual homes, as more people enter the market but find few options available.

Economists say too little home building is a driving factor behind California’s long-running inventory shortages.

Selma Hepp, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic, said the coronavirus is making the problem worse: Millennials are increasingly entering their prime home-buying years, but baby boomers who own large swaths of the housing stock are at heightened risk for complications from COVID-19.

“They don’t want to be moving right now,” she said of the older generation.

In Los Angeles and Orange counties, there were 19% fewer homes for sale in August than a year earlier, according to Zillow. Larger declines were seen in the Inland Empire, as well as San Diego and Ventura counties.

“Homes are getting multiple offers, and they are going above list price,” said Heidi Ludwig, a Redfin real estate agent who specializes in the South Bay. “We have no inventory.”

How long the upswing will continue is unclear. Part of the increase in sales and prices reflect pent-up demand from the spring, when stay-at-home orders and fears of the virus all but froze the market during what is typically its busiest season.

If the economy takes a turn for the worse, the housing market could also trend downward.

For now, prices are shooting up across the region.

  • In Los Angeles County, the median home price rose 12.2% from a year earlier to $692,750 in August, while sales fell 3.8% from a year earlier.
  • In Orange County, the median home price rose 11.6% to $800,000, while sales climbed 10.9%.
  • In Riverside County, the median home price rose 13.1% to $441,000, while sales edged up 0.6%.
  • In San Bernardino County, the median home price rose 9.8% to $380,000, while sales climbed 2.8%.
  • In San Diego County, the median home price rose 9.4% to $640,000, while sales climbed 7.2%.
  • In Ventura County, the median home price rose 8.1% to $647,250, while sales climbed 7%.

Antonio Herrera, 28, is among those trying to break into homeownership. He and his partner are looking for homes in the $500,000 range in South Los Angeles, but so far have had trouble closing the deal.

“I expected homes to maybe sell slightly over [asking], but we are seeing houses go up $50,000 to $100,000,” he said.

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