Home sales hit 5-year low as prices hit all-time high

Bay Area home sales slowed for the 13th straight month in April to the lowest pace in five years, while prices reached a new peak, DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service said in its monthly report.

A total of 8,358 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county region last month, down 25.1 percent from 11,158 for April last year. Last month’s total fell 14.2 percent from 9,745 for March, making it the slowest April since 2001, when 7,193 homes were sold. April’s year-over-year decline in sales was the steepest since November 2001, when sales dropped 27.2 percent to 6,644 from 9,122 one year earlier.

“These are strange times for forecasters and analysts. Are we heading into a market lull? Or are we seeing the beginning of a significant downturn? Many of the fundamentals for housing are at a crossroads: Inflation, interest rates, demand, household incomes, prices, and whether homes are a good investment compared to other investments. Summer is going to be interesting to say the least,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

The median price paid for a Bay Area home rose to a record $628,000 last month. That was up 1 percent from March’s $622,000, and up 7.2 percent from $586,000 for April a year ago. Last month’s year-over-year increase was the lowest since August 2003 when the $447,000 median was also up 7.2 percent.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a question-and-answer session after a speech he delivered on banking in Chicago, said the housing market, after flying high for five years, has lost altitude and appears headed for a safe landing. Bernanke said home sales are slowing, as is new housing construction.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $3,048 in April. That was up from $2,958 in March, and up from $2,659 for April a year ago.

Indicators of market distress are still largely absent, according to DataQuick. The use of adjustable-rate mortgages has decreased the last four months, and foreclosure rates are coming up from last year’s low point, but are still below normal levels.

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