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Southern California Home Prices Hit 4-Year High

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California home prices hit a four-year high in August as buyers snapped up more expensive properties along the coast and sales of foreclosed properties kept drying up, a research firm reported Thursday.

The median price for new and existing houses and condos in the six-county region reached $309,000 last month, up 10.8 percent from the same period last year, DataQuick said.

It was the fifth straight annual increase and marked the highest median home price in the region since it was $330,000 in August 2008.

Sales jumped 14.2 percent from last year to 22,438 homes, the highest August tally in six years.

Orange County, with the highest median price, posted a 20 percent increase in sales, a figure that matched Los Angeles County and came in slightly below other coastal counties.

Sales were weaker in inland counties that have been hit hard by foreclosures. San Bernardino County, with the region's lowest median price, managed only a 3.2 percent increase in sales. Riverside County registered a 3.4 percent sales decline.

Foreclosed properties, which tend to sell at steep discounts, made up a smaller part of the sales mix in the region, lifting its median price, DataQuick said. Homes that were foreclosed in the previous year accounted for 19.2 percent of existing home sales in August, down from 32.4 percent a year earlier and 56.7 percent in February 2009.

Low mortgage rates, an improving economy and interest from investors and cash buyers also fueled sales, DataQuick said.

Cash buyers accounted for 31.6 percent of August sales, up from 28.5 percent a year earlier and well above the monthly average of 15 percent since 2000.

DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage said some cash buyers can't get loans, while others are betting that real estate is a good place to park assets. Still others paid cash to set themselves apart in bidding wars.

"Sellers like the speed and certainty associated with cash. It gets you to the front of the line when there are multiple offers," LePage said.

The California Association of Realtors' index of unsold inventory stood at 3.6 months in July — the latest period available — down from 5.8 months a year earlier. The figure represents how long it would take to sell all existing single-family homes at the current sales clip. Supply in a normal market is considered to be six to seven months.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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