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Median Home Prices Plunge in California

Housing prices kept plunging in California in January as low-cost foreclosures drove the market, a real estate tracking firm said Thursday.

The median home price in a nine-county region of Northern California dived a remarkable 45.5 percent from a year ago. The figure stood at $300,000 last month, compared to $550,000 in January of 2008, San Diego-based DataQuick said.

In a six-county region of Southern California, the median price plummeted nearly 40 percent to $250,000 last month, from $415,000 in the year-ago period.

Buyers around the state moved to scoop up foreclosed homes at steep discounts. In Northern California, sales increased 41 percent in January from a year earlier. That figure jumped 53 percent in Southern California.

"For months, we've seen quite a flurry of sales activity in many inland areas where prices have fallen more in line with local incomes," DataQuick president John Walsh said.

Many first-time buyers, investors and others have stopped waiting for prices to definitively bottom out, he said.

"They're happy to lock in substantial discounts relative to the peak" prices reached in the past two years, he said.

The median price in Northern California peaked at $665,000 in mid-2007. In Southern California, the median price for the region hit $505,000 in mid-2008.

Foreclosures accounted for 54 percent of sales last month in Northern California and 58 percent in Southern California.

Walsh said new efforts to stem foreclosure and halt price depreciation could tame inland bargain-hunting.

"It's had to imagine resale activity getting much stronger in many inland areas, especially if the deep discounts fade as a result of new efforts to stem foreclosures and stabilize prices," he said.

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