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Median Home Prices Soar as Santa Barbara County Inventory Dwindles

South Coast sees 15 percent jump in price, with North County figures up 13 percent

It’s a seller’s market on the Central Coast and across the country, as median home prices soar above last year’s averages and home owners armed with cash and low interest rates consider jumping into the mix.

The national median existing-home price for January was $173,600, up 12.3 percent from January 2012 and the 11th consecutive month of year-over-year price increases, according to the National Association of Realtors.

That January gain is the strongest since November 2005.

The median home price in Santa Barbara County was up year-over-year by more than 30 percent in January, according to real estate data. The median price of 284 home sales was $340,000.

Locally, the rise in the median home price — the point at which half of all homes sold for more and half for less — can be attributed to a low number of homes for sale, many buyers fighting for the same properties, and others looking to take advantage of low interest rates and paying with cash.

In Santa Barbara and Goleta, the median home price is up 15 percent from a year ago, according to Gary Woods, a statistician for the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors.

The median is even jumping month-to-month. February’s median home price was $930,000, compared to $830,000 in January, Woods said.

Fewer short sales and foreclosures have helped improve the median, as well as the shortage of homes for sale, he said.

“It’s dramatically better, year over year,” Woods said. “The big fly in the ointment is the inventory. At some point, supply and demand has to kick in. The thing that’s gone away is the repossessions, which was the thing that was suppressing the sales prices. We’ll just have to see.”

There are 280 homes for sale in Santa Barbara and Goleta, down 25 percent from last year, he said. Half of all sales are paid in cash, and about 25 percent of all sales are going for over asking price — about 7 percent over, Wood added.

Home buyers in the North County are facing the same obstacles, which is why the median prices are acting accordingly. Real estate data shows the median home price of 97 sales in Santa Maria in January was $220,000, a 13.11 percent boost from January 2012.

D’Ann Bartley of Prudential Realty said there are a mere 89 listings in Santa Maria and Orcutt, compared to 175 at this time last year.

Bartley said home sellers are getting “multiple, multiple” offers, and even pledging full price doesn’t necessarily cut it.

“Our major problem up here, like everyone in California, is lack of inventory,” she said. “It’s just really tough right now to be a buyer. It’s going to continue, too, as long we have this shortage of inventory.”

Patricia Griffin of Village Properties in Montecito cautioned against putting too much stock in the median price because it fluctuates easily and doesn’t reflect depreciation.

“The median price is a reflection of the current sales activity, which are at higher price points than a year ago,” Griffin said. “The feeling is that the we have turned a corner and that prices have firmed.”

She said she was glad to see the number of Montecito home sales in 2012, which nearly matched those of 2000.

“There is a pent-up demand as buyers decide to come off from the sidelines and enter the real estate market again,” Griffin said. “I would predict another record year in 2013 as long as our inventories can keep up with the demand.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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